Michigan State is officially a seven seed in this tournament, but it’s hard not to consider the Spartans a favorite given everything we’ve seen in the last two weeks.
After pushing Wisconsin to overtime and toppling Virginia, Las Vegas made Michigan State the favorites to emerge from the East Regional. The Spartans were slow to get rolling against Oklahoma on Friday, but took control of the game in the second half and pulled out a 62-58 win with stellar free throw shooting and defense in the final minutes.
Travis Trice continued his tear through the tournament, leading Michigan State with 24 points while Denzel Valentine added 18 points and seven rebounds. Branden Dawson was off for most of the game, but delivered key buckets in the second half and rebounded the ball well (11 boards) as MSU simply out-executed Oklahoma down the stretch. The Sooners had so many opportunities without an apparent plan on offense, relying on the offensive glass to set up the best opportunities and having Buddy Hield as one of the only players shooting the ball confidently from outside the paint.
The way the last five to ten minutes played out, it was easy to forget that Oklahoma held the lead for most of the game. The Sooners did a great job making Michigan State uncomfortable in the first half, but that inability to close has bounced the last Big 12 team from the 2015 NCAA tournament.
Now we get just two days for preparation before Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino meet with a Final Four bid on the line. While neither team screamed “Final Four ready” in January, credit both of these title-winning coaches for taking advantage of a wide-open East Regional and setting up a one-game play-in to college basketball’s biggest stage.
Louisville and Michigan State have the highest combined seed total (11) of any Elite Eight matchup, but no one is calling Sunday’s matchup a meeting of underdogs. These are two of the game’s best coaches and top programs, and just one will advance to Indianapolis.