Brent Yarina, BTN.com Senior Editor, March 30, 2015
Michigan State is headed to its ninth Final Four and its seventh under Tom Izzo.
This one, as the No. 7 seed in the East Region, is arguably the most surprising of the group. Just about a month ago, in fact, people were wondering if the Spartans would make the NCAA tournament.
Izzo and the Spartans finished strong, though, winning their final two regular-season games (vs. Purdue; at Indiana) before losing to Wisconsin in overtime in the Big Ten tourney title game.
Michigan State hasn't lost since. It will face Duke, the No. 1 seed out of the South Region, in the national semifinals at 6:09 p.m. ET at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here's how the Spartans reached their ninth Final Four:
SECOND ROUND: Michigan State 70, Georgia 63
(AP) At times, Michigan State showed off its tournament-tested look, getting out in transition and pushing back with poise after a run by its opponent. At others, the Spartans were making mental mistakes and struggling to protect their late lead in a shaky finish that had coach Tom Izzo punching the scorer's table in fury. And yet, Michigan State did enough to beat Georgia 70-63 on Friday in the NCAA Tournament's round of 64 behind veterans Denzel Valentine, Travis Trice and Branden Dawson.
Star player: Denzel Valentine. The Spartans' all-around star finished with a typical across-the-board performance (16 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals), in addition to committing just one turnover.
Key stat: 33 percent, Georgia's field goal percentage (19-of-57).
Top quote: "We're an interesting team." – Tom Izzo, on Michigan State's inconsistent effort vs. the Bulldogs
Izzo factoid: Michigan State has won eight of its last nine NCAA tourney openers.
ROUND OF 32: Michigan State 60, Virginia 54
(AP) Travis Trice received a text message Sunday from Golden State Warriors forward and former Michigan State player Draymond Green that read: "Don't let this be your last game." he Spartans' senior guard texted back, "It won't." Trice made sure of that Sunday, scoring 23 points and helping Michigan State knock second-seeded Virginia out of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year, 60-54.
Star player: Travis Trice. The senior star scored 13 points in the opening minutes to help Michigan State jump out to a 15-4 lead. He finished with a game-high 23 points.
Key stat: 29.8 percent, Virginia's field goal percentage (17-of-57), which marked a season-low for the Cavaliers.
Top quote: "Big-time players make big-time plays (and) that's what Travis did." – Branden Dawson, on teammate Travis Trice's big game
Izzo factoid: Izzo improved to 13-1 in Round of 32 games, which equals a .929 winning percentage.
Sweeeeeeeeet 16 baby!!!!!! It's a #SpartyParty— Mateen Cleaves (@Mateen_Cleaves) March 22, 2015
SWEET 16: Michigan State 62, Oklahoma 58
(AP) All but counted out a little over a month ago, coach Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans are still playing. Next up, another Elite Eight. Denzel Valentine scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half and Travis Trice scored six of his 21 points in the final two minutes of a 62-58 win over the Oklahoma Sooners in an NCAA Tournament East Regional semifinal on Friday night.
Star player: Travis Trice. Trice was feeling it again vs. the Sooners, scoring a game-high 24 points, outscoring Big Ten 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield (21), and adding three rebounds and two assists.
Key stat: 5, Michigan State turnovers. No player turned it over more than once.
Top quote: "The first half, I felt like that was my first time playing basketball. But I just kind of snapped out of it. I was like, `I'm in Sweet 16, and we've got a chance to go to the Final 4. I'm a junior, what the heck.' I just smacked the ground and I woke up I guess." – Denzel Valentine, on his slow start and fast finish
Izzo factoid: The victory clinched Michigan State's ninth Elite Eight appearance in Izzo's 20 seasons.
ELITE EIGHT: Michigan State 76, Louisville 70 (OT)
(AP) Travis Trice vowed a day earlier that he wasn't going to cry should the Michigan State Spartans continue their improbable run to the Final Four. The senior guard's vow lasted no more than 10 seconds once the final horn sounded following Michigan State's 76-70 overtime victory over Louisville in a thrilling NCAA Tournament East Regional final Sunday. Amid the frenzied celebration, Trice squatted down at center court and began to sob uncontrollably.
Star player: Denzel Valentine. As usual, Valentine had his good and bad moments; at the end of the day, he finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, six assists, two steals and one block.
Key stat: 15 of 20, Michigan State's effort from the free-throw line, where they have struggled mightily all season, including a pair of misses in the final seconds of regulation.
Top quote: "I was actually trying to hold it in. I try to keep it even keeled. I'm mad that I even cried now." – Travis Trice, on his emotions after the final buzzer
Izzo factoid: Izzo improved to 21-4 (.840 winning percentage) in the second game in NCAA tournament weekends.