Sun Mar 28 05:36pm EDT
Butler has already been tagged as this year's Cinderella. The Final Four run of Tom Izzo's fifth-seeded Michigan State team, however, has been far more improbable.
Midway through the Spartans' second-round game against Maryland, 2009 Big Ten Player of the Year Kalin Lucas ruptured his Achilles tendon and was lost for the season. It was the latest blow for a team that had already suffered through injury (forward Delvin Roe has been playing with a torn meniscus for months), suspensions (guard Chris Allen didn't play in the first game of the Big Ten tournament) and academic troubles (guard Korie Lucious, who took over for Lucas after his injury, missed a game in February because of a failed school obligation).
The team entered the NCAA tournament on a 5-5 skid and figured to be an easy victim for No. 4 seed Maryland in the second round, assuming the Spartans could make it past No. 13 New Mexico State. Even after Lucious hit a buzzer beater against the Terps to propel MSU into the Sweet 16, the loss of Lucas figured to be too much to overcome.
But Izzo came through, as he always does. Of course, it didn't hurt that the path to Indianapolis went through a No. 9 seed (Northern Iowa) and a No. 6 seed (Tennessee), but other great coaches were felled by less this March. A so-called "easy" matchup guarantees nothing. Case in point: Izzo and his Spartans were supposed to be an easy draw for Maryland. Ask Gary Williams how that worked out. But Gary knew, as everyone should now, that an Izzo-coached squad is never an easy out in March.
That's why all his players who have stayed four years have played in a Final Four. It's why he has more Final Four appearances since 1999 than Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino and John Calipari, combined. And it's why that, come Saturday, he'll have the Michigan State Spartans in its sixth Final Four in 12 years.
After Sunday's win, Izzo told CBS, "I just seem to love March." It's not hard to see why.