Over the next two days, we will be taking a team-by-team look at the Final Four.
MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS
Star: Right now, the moniker of go-to player has to be bestowed upon Durrell Summers. Summers has worlds of talent, but for whatever reason -- a lack of focus, inconsistent intensity -- Summers did not live up to that potential this season. But in the tournament, Summers has been a different player. He has been aggressive, he has knocked down jumpers, and he has been the best scorer for a Michigan State team that needs a star with Kalin Lucas out. He averaged 20.0 ppg in four games in the regional, earning Midwest MOP while knocking down a number of important shots. I don't know if there is anyone else on the Michigan State roster capable of taking a game over.
Unheralded Hero: Delvon Roe has been nothing short of a warrior for Michigan State during this tournament run. The kid has the knees of a 75 year old offensive lineman -- he's currently playing with a torn meniscus -- and at least once a game comes up limping after it gets it. He isn't playing big minutes (20-25 a game) and he isn't posting big numbers (5.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg), but the simple fact he is playing through the pain is a feat in and of itself, and no doubt inspiring to his teammates. Did I mention he has a torn meniscus?
How they got here: If Butler had the most difficult trip to the Final Four, Michigan State had the easiest. And the most exciting. In the first round, the Spartans jumped all over New Mexico State in the first half, but the Aggies made it interesting at the end, missing three attempts at a three to force overtime in a game that is marred with an officiating controversy. In their second round game against Maryland, Kalin Lucas popped his achilles late in the first half, but Michigan State was able to extend their lead. Maryland made a run in the final four minutes, taking the lead, before Korie Lucious hit a three at the buzzer for the win. Northern Iowa gave Michigan State a run in the Sweet 16, leading by seven at halftime, but Michigan State turned on the defense down the stretch, holding UNI without a field goal for the last 10:22 of the game while Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan hit big shots down the stretch. Sparty beat Tennessee to advance to the Elite 8, winning when Raymar Morgan hit a free throw with just 1.8 seconds left on the clock.
Three reasons they can win it all:
- Tom Izzo: Duh. The guy is the best in-game coach in the country. Period.
- Experience: Michigan State may be without Kalin Lucas, but this is still an experienced group of kids that played in the Final Four last year. None of the other teams in the Final Four can say that. Coach K is the only coach that has been in the Final Four recently, taking Duke there in 2004. Anyone can sit there and talk about this just being another game, but thats before you take the court in front of 70,000 people and a national television audience.
- Winning close games: Some may call the Spartans run to the Final Four lucky. It may be (see below). But there is also something to be said for being a "winner". I've said this numerous times on this blog, but winning is a skill. It is a mindset. Yes, they may have won all four of their games in the final minute, but they still won them. The Spartans made the plays and got the stops they needed to get to be at this point. Say what you will about officiating and last minute plays, but it was the Spartans that forced New Mexico State into three contested shots to force overtime. It was Green and Lucious that created the buzzer beating jumper against Maryland. It was Michigan State that got stops for the last 10 minutes against Northern Iowa, and Lucious and Morgan that made the big shots down the stretch. It was Green that found an open Morgan who drew the foul against Tennessee. At some point, a reoccuring coincidence becomes a trend, and its not coincidence that MSU is alway successful in March an no coincidence that they won four games this March.
Three reasons they won't win (beyond the obvious Kalin Lucas injury):
- Statistically, they may be the worst Final Four team ever: The Wall Street Journal crunched some numbers, and, well, I'll let them explain:
Judging by how many points Michigan State beat its first four tournament opponents by, 13, the team is the worst to make the Final Four since 1985, when the tournament switched to its current format.In comparison, Butler beat their first four opponents -- which included a #1 and #2 seed, MSU beat a #12, #4, #9, and #6 seed -- by 31 points. The average or the previous 104 Final Four teams was 55 points. They won on two game winning shots, one missed game-tying shot, and was tied with Northern Iowa with 90 seconds left.
- Is Korie Lucious a point guard?: More specifically, can he fill the shoes that Kalin Lucas have left empty? Not necessarily as a scorer either. I think we can all agree -- and even Tom Izzo and Lucious can admit -- he isn't the player that Lucas is, and that is not meant to be a knock at all. Lucious can shoot and he can create going 1-on-1, but he has had issues turning the ball over when running the point. He is going to go up against a couple tough defenses this weekend. Will the Spartans be able to execute?
- Durrell Summers is consistently inconsistent: Summers in an enigma. The guy has the tools to be a pro, but the consistency of a manic depressive. Through four games in this tournament, he has been sensational, averaging 20.0 ppg while hitting 53.3% from three and earning the Midwest Region MOP. The four game before that? He averaged 7.3 ppg while hitting just 10-29 from the floor. He has attempted one more three pointer (30) in the tournament than he did field goals (29) in the four games before the tournament started. Which Summers will show up?