He did it again.
Tom Izzo has led the Spartans to the Final Four.
Six times in last 12 years (he's been to the tournament 13 consecutive seasons). Do you realize how crazy that is? For more than a decade, Tom Izzo has averaged a Final Four every other year. There are coaches whose entire career is made with one trip to the Final Four. Izzo's been there six times.
Perhaps the most impressive part is that Michigan State has rarely been a favorite in his time there. Michigan State isn't Duke. Of the 13 tournament trips, only three times have the Spartans been a one seed, and only once were they a two. Each of those four seasons, Michigan State made the Final Four.
With this season's run to the final weekend, Izzo has now reached the Final Four twice as a five seed. Here is a quick look at Michigan State's odds of making a Final Four each season and their eventual finish.
Fivethirtyeight.com crunched the numbers, and based on the seeds he has received, Izzo should have been to 1.8 Final Fours.
Well what about this year?
This year's run is no doubt the most unlikely.
The injuries speak for themselves. Kalin Lucas -- the team's star and last year's Big Ten player of the year -- has missed the last two and a half games with a torn achilles tendon. Delvon Roe is playing with a torn meniscus in his knee. Chris Allen has a sprained the arch of his right foot. Yet this team has been able to squeak out win after win in the tournament, winning four games in the Midwest Regional by a combined 13 points.
They needed the help of a lane violation in the final seconds to hold off New Mexico State. They needed a last second three from Korie Lucious to beat Maryland after blowing a nine point lead in the final two minutes. They needed an impressive defensive performance to hold off a scrappy Northern Iowa team to win a "blowout" by seven points.
And then there was Tennessee.
Tennessee came out with guns blazing. The Vols scored 26 points in the first nine minutes of the game, knocking down six consecutive threes as Tennessee looked poised to run Sparty out of the gym. And while Michigan State was able to weather that early storm, the Spartans still spent much of the first half and the early second half trailing Tennessee.
That changed when JP Prince went out after trying, and failing, to draw two charges in the span of three seconds, picking up his third foul in the process.
Tennessee was up 47-42 at that point. On that same possession, Durrell Summers knocked down a three coming off of a screen. After Wayne Chism hit a three of his own, Chris Allen buried another three. Bobby Maze missed a quick three before Summers hit an 18 footer, and the foul. After hitting the free throw, Michigan State would go up 51-50, scoring nine points in 1:10.
Sparty would eventually push the lead out to 59-51 before Tennessee made their comeback, an 11-2 run capped by a short jumper from Brian Williams that put Tennessee up 62-61. The two teams would trade baskets with Summers eventually breaking a 66-all tie with 2:52 left on the clock.
Michigan State wouldn't hit another shot from the field the rest of the way, and after Williams followed up a miss with a dunk, Scotty Hopson drew a foul with 12 seconds left. He made the first free throw, but missed the second, leaving the game tied at 69. Michigan State didn't call a time out off the rebound -- just like they didn't call a timeout with 6.6 on the clock against Maryland -- and eventually, Draymond Green found Raymar Morgan wide open under the basket. Morgan drew a foul (we talk about the foul here) with 1.8 seconds left, hit one of the free throws, and Prince missed a heave at the buzzer.
The guy that was the most impressive in this game -- and in the tournament as a whole -- has been Durrell Summers. Summers was struggling all season long. The only thing consistent about his game this year was that he was inconsistent. Some nights he would play like a possible first round draft pick, other nights you would forget that he was on the team.
The first round Big Ten tournament loss to Minnesota was one of those forgettable nights, as he finished just 1-5 from the field for four points.
But in the tournament, Summers has been a difference maker. Yesterday, he scored 21 points, and everyone was important. He scored 10 points early in the game to keep MSU close when Tennessee had that hot start. He hit two key jumpers when Prince went to the bench, sparking a 17-4 run. And his three with 2:52 on the clock gave Michigan State a 69-66 lead.
All told, Summers averaged 20.0 ppg and was named the Midwest Region's MOP.
In this tournament, Summers seems to finally be realizing just how good he can truly be. And with the injuries that have plagued the Spartans of late, he has become just that much more important of player.
I wonder if his turnaround had anything to do with the two hour meeting he had with Izzo right after the Big Ten Tournament?
Whatever the reason, its clear that this Spartan team is playing as well as they have all season long.
Maybe his message is finally getting through.
Monday, March 29, 2010
He did it again.