March Madness Sweet 16 Semi-Cinderella to Make the Final Four
Those first four days and nights of March Madness were a blast, huh?
Unless your bracket got blown to smithereens or your alma mater lost in an upsetting fashion.
Even still, it’s what makes this time of year and tournament unpredictable fun.
The Sweet Sixteen is set and now the question is: Can a Cinderella reach the Final Four?
Of course. Princeton is now the darling of the tourney, and deservedly so. The 15th-seeded Tigers are certainly legit after shocking Purdue and then clobbering Missouri.
They face Creighton next and are 9.5-point underdogs. That’s way too many points but I still think the Bluejays find a way to win. If Princeton does reach the Elite Eight, they’ll face the winner of San Diego State and Alabama, and that’s just too much for the Ivy Leaguers to advance. The defenses of both the Aztecs and the Crimson Tide are just too good.
I thought about Florida Atlantic but Tennesse’s top-ranked defense will stifle them.
So I’m going to keep riding Michigan State’s magical run. Now, in any other year, a Tom Izzo-led Spartans team could hardly be called an underdog.
But this year is different. The Spartans, just a No. 7 seed, have become resolved in the wake of a horrific mass shooting on their home campus in East Lansing, Mich., on Feb. 14.
An unimaginable way to form an even tougher bond than what a college team already does, year in, and year out. But here they are.
Their toughness and intensity have been visible in crucial moments since that awful tragedy.
They’ve been particularly tough on defense.
MSU held USC to 41.4-percent shooting in its first-round victory over the Trojans, and then held Shaka Smart’s sharp-shooting Marquette squad to 38.5 percent shooting two days later to advance.
The Spartans beat the Golden Eagles by nine (69-60) despite making only two of 16 3-point shots.
Their D and free-throw shooting (19 of 23) allow you to do that and those are the kind of qualities that can push a team to the Final Four.
The Michigan State legendary coach, never immune to emotion, was in tears after his team’s hard-fought win.
Izzo is coaching his 15th Sweet Sixteen team and playing in Madison Square Garden will be no problem for the Spartans.
In fact, MSU senior point guard Tyson Walker, who’s been outstanding through the first two games, is a New York native and will look forward to being in the spotlight at his homecoming in MSG.
Kansas State, though, poses all kinds of problems.
The Wildcats shoot the ball extremely well (58.2 percent against Montana State in the first round; 48.2 percent against Kentucky), make smart decisions (just eight turnovers against the UK Wildcats in round two) and space the floor nicely.
Point guard Markquis Nowell leads the way and ranks second in the nation in assists (7.8). He poured in 27 points in KSU’s victory over Kentucky.
The Walker-Nowell matchup will be a joy to watch.
Then there’s all All-Big 12 First Teamer Keyontae Johnson, who averages 17.7 points on 51.9 percent shooting and 7.1 rebounds per game.
He and Nowell make for a dynamite duo under first-year coach Jerome Tang, who may be the National Coach of the Year and definitely has this team believing in a trip to the Final Four and maybe more. Hey, if their football brethren can get that far … now that KSU title game against Georgia is a totally different story (gulp), but perhaps at least motivation to get there.
Anyhow, this matchup, as of Monday afternoon, is basically a pick ‘em. By the time of tipoff Thursday, the Spartans may well hang on to their current 1-point edge as the smallest of favorites, which will make for a fantastic first game on Thursday, March 23 (6:30 p.m. ET on TBS).
The odds I’m using are courtesy of one of our favorite sites: FanDuel Sportsbook.
Also, be sure to check out our guide to online casinos, from Michigan to New Jersey. You can place all your college basketball future bets through OddsSeeker.
2023 NCAA Tournament - East Region Winner
Michigan State +270
Kansas State +320
Florida Atlantic +470
The Vols of Tennessee are still the oddsmakers’ pick to reach the Final Four and ESPN’s three experts all have Izzo’s boys losing to K-State.
Not me. I think the Spartans' D will clamp down again and they’ll beat the Wildcats.
And I showdown with Tennessee – the top-rated defensive team in the nation – could be a clinic for future teams on how to defend. I’m already leaning toward the under on total points, no matter where it’s set.
Michigan State last won an NCAA title in 2000 – Izzo’s only one – and last appeared in the Final Four in 2019.
While I don’t foresee a second title for Izzo’s Spartans (who were +3000 odds at the start of the tourney), I do think they’re capable of knocking off both Kansas State and Tennessee to win their region (+1400 to start) and give them a chance.