West Region action pits top-seeded Spartans against CardinalsMar 22, 2012 - 2:18 AM Phoenix, AZ (Sports Network) - Into the round of 16 for the 10th time in the last 15 seasons, the Michigan State Spartans have their eyes set on moving even deeper into the 74th annual NCAA Tournament, as they clash with the Louisville Cardinals in the West Regional semifinals at the US Airways Center.
The Spartans, the top seed in the region, are riding a five-game win streak thanks to an 89-67 pounding of Long Island in the second round of the tournament and then a slightly closer 65-61 triumph versus Saint Louis on Sunday.
Michigan State has been a mainstay in the Sweet 16 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams back in the mid-1980's, present now for the 12th time overall. Head coach Tom Izzo has guided the group to seven wins in the last eight tests at this stage of the tourney. In terms of overall success in the event, the Spartans are now 54-24 in 26 appearances and have brought home the trophy in both 1979 and 2000.
As for the Cardinals, now 62-39 in the tournament all-time, they rank fifth among programs in Sweet 16 appearances with a total of 18 since 1975, trailing only North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Kansas. Louisville has reached the Elite Eight 11 times, the most recent coming in 2009 under head coach Rick Pitino who has a stellar 9-0 record in games played in the round of 16.
The fourth seed in the region, the Cardinals are riding a six-game win streak, surviving tough matchups with Davidson (69-62) in the second round of the tourney and New Mexico (59-56) on St. Patrick's Day. Appearing in the NCAA Tournament for the 38th time overall, the Cardinals own a pair of titles just like MSU, securing the championship in both 1980 and 1986.
The all-time series slightly favors the Cardinals, who own a 4-3 edge over Michigan State. This will be the third meeting in the NCAA Tournament between the squads, with each having won one of the previous encounters. The Cardinals posted an 88-81 victory in the 1959 Mideast Regional Final in Evanston, Illinois, but more recently it was MSU with a 64-52 triumph during the 2009 Midwest Regional Final in Indianapolis. As a freshman, Draymond Green registered six points, 10 boards and three assists for the winning side. The victor this time around will match up against the winner of the Florida/Marquette meeting on Saturday for the right to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans.
Against a team that likes to ground out possessions and eat up the clock, the Cardinals found themselves in a tough battle against New Mexico over the weekend. The defense played tough for Louisville as it held the Lobos to just 39.7 percent shooting from the floor and 5-of-23 behind the three-point line. Russ Smith knocked down all three of his three-pointers as he finished with 17 points, followed by Kyle Kuric and Chane Behanan with 10 points apiece, while Gorgui Dieng responded with a team-best 10 rebounds, although the Cards were still overwhelmed on the glass, 36-25. Putting much of their emphasis on defense all season long, the Cardinals have held the competition to just 61.1 ppg, those teams shooting just 37.9 percent from the floor and 30.2 percent beyond the arc. Dieng may not get the attention he deserves, but opposing squads are well aware of his presence as he puts up 9.3 ppg and 9.1 rpg and is also responsible for 116 blocked shots over the course of his 37 starts. Kuric (13.0 ppg) and Russ Smith (11.4 ppg) continue to be the leaders at the offensive end of the floor.
The Spartans were bound to be slowed by Saint Louis in the third round of the tournament, but still the outcome was a lot closer than Michigan State would have liked. After posting a triple-double in the first game of the tournament against LIU, Draymond Green came back a few days later and delivered 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to again show just how well-rounded his game has become. Keith Appling dropped in a team-best 19 points for the Spartans, followed by Derrick Nix and Brandon Wood with 10 points apiece, as the squad made good on 54.3 percent from the field and held the Billikens to just 35.3 percent accuracy from the floor. Green, who was named to the All-Big Ten First Team, the All-Defensive Team and the conference player of the year by the league coaches, is trying to become the first player from one of the power six conferences to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and three assists since Tim Duncan turned the trick for Wake Forest 15 years ago. As one of the most versatile performers ever to put on an MSU jersey, Green is also second in program history in rebounds (1,080), steals (179) and blocked shots (115).
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