During the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament, I picked against Michigan State. Learning of this, two of my friends among the 12 other guys I was watching started laughing at me. Now, I don't consider myself a basketball expert by any stretch, but I do think of myself as a fairly learned individual. Michigan State was only good enough for a seven seed. Why is picking against them so bad?
As my buddy Rory told me, "You should never, ever bet against Tom Izzo."
Michigan State's now dancing into the Elite Eight, one game away from the Final Four. In his 20th season, Izzo's led his team to the Sweet Sixteen 13 times, advancing to the Regional Final in nine of those years. This is their fourth consecutive year playing during this weekend, their seventh in the past eight years. The only year they didn't make the Elite Eight in that stretch over half that time.
The lesson? Don't bet against Michigan State.
If they want to make the Final Four, though, they'll have to go through another team with a history of success at this level. Rick Pitino's been at Louisville for 14 years—since right after he left the Boston Celtics—and he's turned the Cardinals into a national powerhouse. Since his first year in 2000-2001, he's gone to seven Sweet Sixteens, advancing to the Elite Eight in all but one (2014). Louisville's been to the final four in two of the last three seasons (2012, 2013), winning the title once ('13).
It's a titan matchup between two legendary coaches.
Meanwhile, the second matchup pits Gonzaga against Duke in a battle almost everyone was hoping to see. Duke's always the darling of any tournament once they get on a run, and one could argue this is the best Coach K-led team ever. Duke's abilities have them marked as the team that could maybe take down Kentucky, provided the Wildcats don't slip up along the way.
Gonzaga is arguably just as good, though. They're old and they're deep, with a versatile roster capable of running the floor. But despite all of their successes—14 WCC Players of the Year, 2 national scoring leaders, 1 national player of the year (Adam Morrison in 2005-06, coincidentally along with a player from Duke in JJ Redick)—they've never made the Final Four. This is just their second trip to the Elite Eight.
The Final Four field will be set tonight. Who will be dancing in Indianapolis? The countdown to somebody's One Shining Moment is upon us. Here's the full schedule:
|Sunday, March 29, 2015||Time (ET)||TV|
|(7) Michigan State Spartans vs. (4) Louisville Cardinals||2:20 PM||CBS|
|(2) Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. (1) Duke Blue Devils||5:05 PM||CBS|