March 31, 2009
ROLLING TO MOTOWN: The road to the Final Four was officially set in stone last week as four teams took one step closer to the mecca of Motown. Michigan State downed the overall top-seeded Cardinals of Louisville Sunday to win the Midwest Regional and advance to the Final Four. The Spartans will travel a short 90 miles from their campus in East Lansing to face West Regional champion Connecticut on Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit. A virtual Spartan home-court crowd of 72, 000, the largest ever for college basketball’s hallmark event, is expected for each game. Joining the Spartans and Huskies in the Motor City will be North Carolina and Villanova, who captured the South and East Regional crowns, respectively.
HIGH FIVE: Michigan State is making its fifth NCAA Final Four appearance under head coach Tom Izzo in the last 11 years. The 14-year head coach has guided each of his recruited four-year players to a Final Four appearance. The Spartans lead the nation with four trips to the Final Four over the last 10 seasons. In the program’s history, Michigan State has appeared in six Final Fours.
IT FEELS LIKE HOME: Over the last five years the Big Ten has sent four teams to the Final Four to tie the Big East for the most teams playing during the final weekend of the NCAA Championships. The ACC, Pac-10 and SEC have each sent three teams over that time span. Illinois and Michigan State comprised half of the field in 2005 while Ohio State was the national runner-up in 2007 and the Spartans return to this year’s Final Four.
A Deep Conference: The Big Ten is one of only two conferences (Big East) since 2000 to advance five different programs to the Final Four. The ACC and Big 12 have each had four different schools reach the national semifinals over that time, followed by the Pac-10 (2) and the SEC (2). Michigan State leads the Big Ten with four appearances (2000, 2001, 2005 and 2009) while Illinois (2005), Indiana (2002), Ohio State (2007) and Wisconsin (2000) have each earned a Final Four spot since 2000.
BIG TEN. LAST TEN.: Since 2000, the Big Ten has sent eight teams to the Final Four to rank second behind only the ACC with nine teams during the last 10 years. The Big East has sent seven teams and the Big 12 six. The Pac-10 and SEC have each sent four teams to the Final Four since 2000.
Final Four Regulars: The Big Ten has accumulated a record 40 Final Four appearances, tying the ACC for the national lead. The Big Ten is also tied with the ACC and SEC with the second-most national titles (10) in college basketball history. The Pac-10 leads all conferences with 15 titles. Since the inception of the NCAA Tournament in 1939, the Big Ten has recorded the most appearances of any conference in the Big Dance with 191 (ACC, 179) and has the second-most NCAA Tournament victories with 303 (ACC, 336).
THE SPECIFICS: Since 1999, Michigan State has had the most Final Four appearances with five. North Carolina ranks second with four and Connecticut is tied for third with three. Villanova is making its first appearance since 1985.
Mr. March: Michigan State’s Tom Izzo is no stranger to coaching basketball in March and has a top resume to prove it. Izzo has coached the Spartans to 12 NCAA appearances and owns a 30-10 record entering the weekend. He became only the second coach in NCAA history to reach four Final Fours in his first 10 years of coaching, joining Ohio State’s Fred Taylor who took his Buckeyes to four Final Fours in his first 10 seasons. Izzo is also one of only 10 coaches in NCAA Tournament history to advance to three straight Final Fours, which he accomplished from 1999-2001.
I-96 to DETROIT: The Michigan State Spartans will play a virtual home game in Detroit’s Ford Field as they make the 92-mile trek from campus in East Lansing to the Motor City. The only school that has been closer to a Final Four site since the tournament bracket expanded in 1985 is Kansas. The Jayhawks won the 1988 tournament in Kansas City, Mo., just 42 miles from their campus in Lawrence.
HOME STATE ADVANTAGE: Michigan State becomes the first team to play a Final Four in their home state since Duke in 1994 (Charlotte). Prior to the 1994 Final Four, the last time it happened was when Purdue played in Indianapolis in 1980. A complete listing of Final Four teams playing in their home states is below.
ROAD WARRIORS: Despite the close proximity to its East Lansing campus, it remains a road game for Michigan State. The Spartans are 18-4 away from the Breslin Center, including 8-3 on a neutral court.
GIANT SLAYER: In the NCAA Regional semifinals, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo met the defending national champion in the NCAA Championship for the third time in his career. The Spartans defeated the 2008 champion Kansas Jayhawks, 67-62. In 1999 the Spartans beat Kentucky, who won the 1998 NCAA title, in the Elite Eight in St. Louis. In 2003, MSU defeated 2002 national champion Maryland in the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ in San Antonio. Izzo is 3-0 when playing defending champs the following year in the NCAA Championship. Overall, Izzo is 5-0 over defending national champions, having beaten Connecticut in 2000 and Kansas at home earlier this season.
US vs. THEM: The Big Ten has recorded a .781 winning percentage and 118 victories in non-conference games this season. This marks the best performance since the 1998-99 season.
SEVEN ON THE DANCE CARD: The Big Ten led the top-six RPI conferences in percentage of teams qualifying for the ‘Big Dance’. Seven of the 11 teams played in opening round games, representing 64% of the conference contingent. The ACC had 58% of its membership represented in the NCAA Championship (7-of-12 teams), while the Big East ranked third with 44% of its squads in the NCAA postseason (7-of-16). The Big 12 and Pac-10 each had 50% of their institutions represented while the SEC is sent 25 percent of its teams to the Championship.
Familiar Setting: Michigan State is making its 12th-straight NCAA appearance, the fourth-longest streak in the nation. Only Arizona (25), Kansas (20), and Duke (14) have made more consecutive appearances. MSU is making its 23rd appearance overall in the NCAA Championship with a record 43-21 in its previous 22 tournaments.
BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG STAGE, BIG APPLE: Penn State will travel to the “Big Apple” on Tuesday where it hopes to take a bite out of Notre Dame’s prospects for the title crown as the two rivals face off in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals at Madison Square Garden. The two teams will meet for the first time on the hardwood since the 2000 NIT semifinals when the Irish claimed a 73-52 victory to advance to the championship where they fell to Wake Forest. The contest will mark the fourth meeting between the two squads overall and their third clash during postseason play, with the Nittany Lions holding a 2-1 edge. Penn State is making its second NIT appearance under head coach Ed DeChellis. A No. 2 seed in the 32-team field, the Nittany Lions improved to 20-9 in 10 NIT appearances, most recently claiming an overtime victory over George Mason in the first round, defeating Rhode Island in the second round, and downing Florida in the quarterfinals. Penn State’s 68.9 winning percentage in the NIT ranks seventh best all-time for teams having played in 25 or more NIT games, just behind Notre Dame which stands in fifth at 72.2 percent.
WINNING AND BREAKING RECORDS: For the first time in Big Ten history, eight squads have reached 20 wins in a season. Currently, Michigan State leads the way with 30 victories. Purdue recorded 27 triumphs on the season, while Penn State has 25 and Illinois has won 24 contests. Ohio State and Minnesota each have 22 victories on the year and Michigan has collected 21 wins. Wisconsin has 20 triumphs. Seven teams with 20-or more wins was the previous best, which occurred during the 2006-07 season.
LOOKING AHEAD: In a conference dominated by underclassmen, The Big Ten will look to parlay the success of the 2008-09 campaign to the upcoming season as eight of the 11 member institutions look to return at least 75 percent of their offensive production next year. Additionally, five of those schools will restore 90 percent of their total offensive production, including Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State as very few student-athletes are lost to graduation. The Buckeyes, who were led by sophomore standout and first-team All-Big Ten selection Evan Turner, could return 100 percent of their scoring contingent next season. Joining Turner among the insurgence of talented sophomores are four other first-team All-Conference honorees and Big Ten scoring leaders in Michigan’s Manny Harris, Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas, Penn State's Talor Battle and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson who are all projected to return as seasoned juniors. Overall, the Big Ten could return 80.5 percent of its offensive production from 2008-09, and no team should lose more than half of its total scoring unit next year.