Michigan State hopes to avoid another early NCAA exit
TULSA, Okla. (AP) Michigan State coach Tom Izzo would like to use last year’s shocking NCAA Tournament loss as a teaching tool for this year’s tournament team.
The problem is, the longtime Spartans coach isn’t so sure how well this year’s largely overhauled and injury-riddled roster would relate to last year’s No. 2 seed that was ousted in the first round by 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State .
Ninth-seeded Michigan State (19-14) will open its 20th straight NCAA Tournament when it faces eighth-seeded Miami (21-11) in the Midwest Regional on Friday night. The Spartans will do so with only three players who played in last year’s tournament loss, none who were starters in that game.
”I can use a lot from last year’s loss,” Izzo said. ”The problem is everybody I talk to doesn’t know anything about that game. They weren’t there.”
While Michigan State doesn’t come into Friday’s opener with the same lofty credentials as last year’s 29-win team, it does carry a reputation for NCAA success – thanks to Izzo’s 46-18 record in the tournament.
It’s a reputation that will be tested against the Hurricanes, who advanced to last year’s Sweet 16 and have won at least one NCAA Tournament game in each of their last three appearances.
”We know what happened last year, but we’re not going to dwell on the past,” said Michigan State guard Tum Tum Nairn, who played 7 minutes off the bench in last year’s loss. ”We know what happened, but (we want to) just do what we can to get a win.”
Some other things to watch in the Midwest Regional on Friday:
INJURED DUCK: Chris Boucher hardly envisioned watching the NCAA Tournament from the bench with a serious injury, but his role changed in a hurry for No. 3 seed Oregon when he went down with a torn ACL during a semifinal victory against California during last weekend’s Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas.
Boucher was Oregon’s third-leading scorer at 11.8 points, also averaging 6.1 rebounds and 2.55 blocks. The Ducks lost by three points to Arizona in the Pac-12 Tournament final without him. The Ducks (29-5) take on 14th-seeded Iona (22-12) in the first of four games Friday at the Sacramento Kings’ first-year Golden 1 Center.
COWBOY PRIDE: First-year Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood expects more from his program, and he hopes the Cowboys will show it when they face Michigan.
The Cowboys come into the tourney with three straight losses, all to ranked teams, and four straight losses in NCAA Tourney play. But with two national titles and six Final Fours in school history, Underwood wants his players to start thinking big. ”This should not be a foreign place for Oklahoma State basketball,” he said in Indianapolis. ”The history of our program bears that out. I think at different times programs go through little lapses or whatever it may be.”
CARDINAL FLURRY: First-year Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper knows all about Louisville from his previous job at Western Kentucky. And with the Cardinals coming off a one-and-done at the ACC Tournament, Harper figures the Gamecocks (20-14) will have to handle a quick, early flurry.
”They’re going to try to set the tone,” Harper said. ”They’re going to try and be the bully, and we’ll see if they allow them to bully us.”
Louisville (24-8) feels like it have something to prove, too – that they’re back after missing the 2016 postseason because of a self-imposed ban. It’s the third time Louisville has been seeded No. 2. The previous two times were 1980 and 1986 – both national championship seasons.
EXPERIENCED BLUEJAYS: In Sacramento on Friday, sixth-seeded Creighton (25-9) plays in its 11th NCAA Tournament in 19 years against a No. 11 Rhode Island team (24-9) returning for the first time in 18 years.
The Rams are riding an eight-game winning streak after capturing the Atlantic 10 tournament title by beating VCU.
AP sports writers Janie McCauley and Mike Marot contributed to this report.
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