SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—And then there was one: Michigan State, the sole survivor from last year’s Final Four teams still alive in the NCAA tournament.
The fifth-seeded Spartans (25-8) play No. 4 seed Maryland (24-8) in the second round of the Midwest Regional on Sunday in Spokane.
North Carolina and Connecticut didn’t even make the tournament field this year, and second-seeded Villanova was knocked out by Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
That leaves Michigan State, which made a spirited run to the 2009 Final Four in Detroit before losing the title game to the Tar Heels.
“A year can change a lot,” said Draymond Green of Michigan State. “We rebounded decently from the players we lost.”
It hasn’t been easy for the Spartans, who have endured a season of internal turmoil. Now the team is dealing with injuries. Leading scorer Kalin Lucas twisted his ankle in Friday’s win over New Mexico State. He limped to the podium for a press conference Saturday, but insisted he was 100 percent healthy and will play.
“He is 100 percent in his mind because of what is at stake,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “I wouldn’t say he is 100 percent.”
Izzo was going to give Lucas the day off, but the junior insisted on practicing.
Fellow starter Chris Allen is more doubtful. The Spartans’ leading 3-point shooter missed practice and was wearing a walking boot over his right foot and ankle. Izzo said he suffered an arch injury against the Lobos.
Allen vowed to play against Maryland, but Izzo said it may come down to a game-time decision and is a concern because an injured arch is hard to deal with.
“You can’t tape it like an ankle,” Izzo said.
Michigan State and Maryland have played only four times in their history, but that included Maryland wins in 2006 and 2008 that included several of the current players.
“We know their system and they know our system,” said Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez, the ACC player of the year. “It’s going to be one of those games were you can’t really make that many mistakes.”
Michigan State always seems to come up big in the NCAA tournament. The Spartans are 19-5 all-time in first round games, and 10-4 in second-round games since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
Under Izzo, the Spartans have are 32-11 (.744 winning percentage) in NCAA tournament games, have advanced to the Final Four five times in 11 years, won a national title and gone to 13 consecutive NCAA tournaments.
“That says it all,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “I don’t think anybody has done a better job of that in the country.”
Of course, Williams is no slouch. In 21 seasons, he has taken Maryland to 17 consecutive postseason tournaments, won the 2002 national title and gone 24-12 in NCAA games. But they have lost their past two second-round games, to Butler and last year to Memphis.
Izzo has become a legend in winning the second game of any NCAA tournament weekend. Under him, the Spartans have gone 14-3 in that second game, which includes regional finals and national title games.
Green said the reason is endless preparation, watching film and creating a game plan.
“He hasn’t been to sleep,” Green said. “There is no other coach that works like him.”
“He always tell us, ‘You get me through the first day and I’ll get you through the second day,”’ Green said.
Lately, the Spartans have been living on tough defense, holding opponents to 38.8 percent shooting in the past eight games.
They also caught a break to beat New Mexico State 70-67 Friday. Officials whistled New Mexico State’s Troy Gillenwater for a lane violation before Raymar Morgan missed the second of two free throws with 18.6 seconds left and the Spartans up by two. Given a reprieve, Morgan sank the free throw, changing the Aggies’ final possession from working inside for a basket to a pair of desperation 3-point tries that missed.
Izzo was relieved his team escaped despite shooting just 37.7 percent.
That won’t likely be good enough against high-powered Maryland. The Terrapins had four players in double figures and one who scored nine in beating Houston 89-77 on Friday.
Maryland will need a stellar effort from Vasquez. He was plenty good Friday, scoring 16 points, dishing six assists and pulling down seven rebounds. But he made just 5-of-13 field goals and missed all five of his 3-point attempts. Freshman post Jordan Williams came up big, posting career highs with 21 points and 17 rebounds.
Williams said as long as Vasquez is distributing the ball well, Maryland will be fine.
“When he can find people who are open, that really helps us,” Williams said.