Cassius Winston’s mother saw the elation on Michigan State coach Tom Izzo’s face Sunday after the Spartans knocked off No. 1-seeded Duke.
“I said, ‘How about that?’ And she said, ‘That’s not good enough. We’ve got two more,’ ” Izzo said. “I looked at her and said, ‘A woman of my heart.’ ”
Izzo is the lone member of this Final Four coaching quartet who has been to the NCAA semifinals before. The Spartans are 2-5 in those semifinal games and 1-1 in championship games; the 1999-2000 team won the national title with Mateen Cleaves.
This team has championship ingredients, from a Cleaves-like point guard in Winston to defensive grit, to rebounding prowess, to a fine-tuned offense that can beat teams with outside shooting, points in the paint, or both.
In December, Michigan State lost Joshua Langford, a shooting guard averaging 15 points per game, with a stress fracture in his foot. The Spartans didn’t look much like a Final Four team in early February, after stumbling through three straight losses to Purdue, Indiana and Illinois.
But since then, they are 14-1. They shared the regular-season Big Ten title with Purdue, then won the conference tournament. In the NCAA tournament, after a first-round scare against No. 15-seed Bradley, the No. 2-seeded Spartans cruised against the Gophers (by 20 points) and LSU (by 17) before Sunday’s last-minute comeback win against Duke.
That exorcised one demon for Izzo, who had been 1-11 all-time against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. Michigan State’s last Final Four trip, in 2015, ended against Duke in the semifinals.
“Just like us, they’re always knocking on the championship door,” Krzyzewski said. “With the system that they have, the defense they play, the rebounding and [Winston], they have a heck of a chance to win it all.”