CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The Virginia Cavaliers are downplaying any notion of payback being the driving force when they face Michigan State in an NCAA tournament’s round of 32 today (12:10 p.m. on CBS).
The Spartans aren’t buying it.
"We know, there’s definitely got to be a revenge factor for them," Spartans guard Travis Trice said Saturday. "It would be the same thing for us if a team put us out last year."
Michigan State knocked off top-seeded Virginia 61-59 in last year’s NCAA Tournament regional semifinal at Madison Square Garden. The teams meet again today in Charlotte with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
"It’s not like ‘Oh, revenge, we have got to get that,’" Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett said.
Virginia is once again the higher seed at No. 2 — and the favorite.
The Spartans (24-11), despite a wealth of NCAA tournament experience on their roster, are the seventh seed in the East, but earned their way into the second round with a hard-fought win over 10th-seeded Georgia on Friday. And right now they are playing their best basketball of the season.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo wasn’t exactly thrilled when the brackets were unveiled last Sunday and he saw a potential second-round rematch with Bennett’s Cavaliers (30-3).
"The first thing I thought about when we got (them) is `Why?,’" Izzo said, drawing a laugh from the media contingent at his news conference. "Then I realized my AD is on the selection committee, so I was mad at him."
Virginia junior forward Anthony Gill said the pain from last year’s loss is still fresh.
But he added they haven’t spent any time worrying about getting even with the Spartans. They are simply preparing for the game like any other opponent.
"I remember in the locker room everybody just said, `Remember how this feels,’" Gill said. "This is isn’t going to be a revenge game, just us going out there and do what we do."
But Michigan State senior guard Branden Dawson believes that may change when the Cavaliers step on the court, making them an even more dangerous team.
"They’re definitely going to come in with a chip on their shoulder," said Dawson, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds in last year’s win. "I know for a fact that they didn’t forget about the game last year."
Five things to watch when Virginia meets Michigan State:
VIRGINIA’S PERIMETER SIZE
Izzo said his biggest concern in facing Virginia is its size on the perimeter.
The Cavaliers feature 6-foot-5, 215-pound Malcolm Brogdon and 6-foot-8, 224-pound Nick Nolte on the wing with 6-foot-6, 228-pound Justin Anderson coming off the bench.
Virginia has the nation’s top scoring defense.
"Their inside people are strong and athletic and good, but their perimeter people, not only in height but in girth, they’re big, they’re big," Izzo said. "We’re not as big there, so I’ve got to figure out a way to, I don’t know, work around that."
Gill anticipates the team that is more physical will move on to the Sweet 16.
"Dawson and the other interior players that they have create some challenges for us because of how physical they are and we’re going to have to match that physicality," Gill said.
MAGIC SPEAKS TO SPARTANS
Magic Johnson was in Charlotte to watch his beloved Spartans play this weekend, and the former NBA star took a few minutes out of his day on Saturday to speak with players.
Izzo said Johnson still follows the team closely and speaks to his players on occasion. He said Johnson is extremely knowledgeable about the team.
"I said to my assistants, they must think I had a meeting with him before and gave him all these things to say because he analyzed their team way better than I did," Izzo said.
Anderson proved he is getting healthier, scoring 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting in the Cavaliers’ opening win over Belmont.
"Just to see him have a shot go in and see him moving better and get a block, that was important," Bennett said. "Everybody asks he is he full strength? As much as he’s missed, he can’t be. But he is certainly closer."
A lot has been made of Virginia’s stifling defense this season, but the Spartans turned the tables on the Cavaliers last year. They held Virginia to 35.1 percent shooting in that loss.