Given Tom Izzo as the Michigan State Spartans head coach has 22 straight years in the NCAA tournament and 52 wins in that time frame, there are a lot of games to look back at over his career. So I decided we could all use a fun debate over what his best win each day of the tournament was through each round. For the previous game recaps in this series, you can find the full list here.
Today brings us to Coach Izzo’s best win in the Sweet 16 for games played on Friday. Fun fact, of Tom Izzo’s 22 tournament appearances, 14 of those make it to at least the Sweet 16. That means that 63.6 percent of the time, Izzo is coaching his team in the second weekend of the tournament.
Now, as I mentioned yesterday, there is a slight oddity to how this series is organized in that only one of Izzo’s wins in the Sweet 16 fell on Thursday. There are a lot of great wins to choose from for today, so narrowing it down to one was a bit daunting (spoiler alert: this Sunday is even tougher). Probably the easiest choice would be the 2005 upset win over No. 1 seed Duke. Certainly the 2003 upset win over the reigning national champ and then still ACC team Maryland deserves consideration. What about Kansas in 2009 or Oklahoma in 2015? In the end, I picked some personal setting bias for this one to make the decisive factor.
The 2014 upset by the No. 4 seed Spartans over the No. 1 seed Virginia Cavaliers gets the pick for me as the best win. Just last week in this series I made fun of the idea of giving credit to beating their agonizingly dull style of play, but here I am this week picking it anyways. The reason this one was so sweet for me mostly two-fold. Keith Appling, disregarding his flaws off the court, and Adrian Payne were a joy to watch that season on the court. Then you can’t forget Payne’s relationship with vital team spirit member Lacey Holsworth. We also know that Payne and Appling ended up to date being the one and only senior class under Tom Izzo to never play in a Final Four, but this game sure made it seem like they were destined to keep the streak alive.
The other reason I picked this win was I was on a work trip at the time surrounded by a bunch of Virginia fans. It was a PAC fundraiser for a Virginia member of Congress whose sons were students at Virginia (and his daughter at Michigan). So most folks at the opening dinner were sporting their Cavs gear, and we all watched on tv’s around the dining area during dinner and stuck around after to watch the end. Needless to say, I was the only happy one there at the end. Plus, added bonus is this was the start of Virginia fans groaning when they see MSU in the same region of their bracket.
So that is my reasoning on why I decided to pick this one as Izzo’s best win. Feel free to disagree in the comments and recap some of the other big wins he had on Friday in the Sweet 16. With that, let’s take a look at the recap.
The fully healthy Big Ten Tournament Champion No. 4 Michigan State Spartans headed to Madison Square Garden to take on the No. 1 seed and regular and tournament ACC Champions the Virginia Cavaliers. MSU started the season 18-1, spending three weeks early in the season as the AP No. 1 pick before a rash of injuries derailed hopes for a regular season conference championship. Gary Harris and Keith Appling had nagging injuries most of the season, and Adrian Payne missed seven games with a right foot sprain. Virginia went 16-2 in the ACC, and entered as a No. 1 seed in the East.
By halftime in this one, MSU had a narrow 31-27 point lead heading into the locker room. The second half was not kind to fans’ hearts, however. The Spartans started the half missing seven of their first eight shot attempts, and turned the ball over five times. The Cavaliers took advantage to turn the slump into a 38-34 lead.
However, Michigan State shook off whatever was nagging them to go on a 13-2 run. Shortly thereafter it was MSU in the lead again 49-42 with just 6:10 left in regulation. Not going away yet, Virginia responded with their own 7-0 run.
Now with the score tied at 51 with 1:51 left, we have ourselves a potential nail biter. In steps Payne to score the next seven points for MSU, including a three pointer with 1:29 to go to give the Spartans the final lead change of the game and keep them out of reach of the Cavs.
Virginia missed on their next offensive possession, and Payne lobs an assist to Brandon Dawson on a line-drive dunk with 52 seconds remaning. Virginia’s Joe Harris responded with a three with :39 seconds left to make it a one possession game at 56-54. However, Payne went to the free throw line and sunk them both with :32 seconds left.
With just 1.1 seconds left, Malcolm Brogdon hits another three for Virginia to make it a one point game 60-59. Harris gets sent to the line on the ensuing Spartan possession, but makes just one free throw. Luckily Virginia’s final hail mary heave is no-where close and cue another win for Sparty in this tournament.
Virginia averaged 45.7 percent shooting from the field all season, but MSU held them to just 35.1 percent in this one. They went 20-of-57, including but managed 6-of-18 from three. The Spartans lost the boards battle 35-32 overall, but defensively out-rebounded the Cavs 25-21.
State was led by Dawson’s team high 24 points and 10 rebounds. Payne was second in scoring with 16 points, and matched Denzel Valentine’s five boards. Harris and Valentine had the team high assists with three each.
I’m sure plenty of you disagree with this choice, and that’s fine. I encourage you to recap the 2003 Maryland, 2005 Duke, 2009 Kansas, and 2015 Oklahoma wins in the comments! Sadly there isn’t a win over U-Conn in the Elite 8 this tournament to be in the running for a Sunday win as we all know, but as for this win it was yet another not-surprising to a Spartan upset win by Mr. March himself. So cue it up, and say with me:
Another Victory for MSU!