Syracuse, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - In a matchup featuring the two lowest seeds remaining in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, the Michigan State Spartans and Louisville Cardinal square off on Sunday afternoon in the East Regional Final for the right to head to the Final Four.
Michigan State's road to this point has been paved with wins over 10th-seeded Georgia (70-63), No. 2 seed Virginia (60-54) and most recently, No. 3 seed Oklahoma (62-58). The Spartans, the seven seed in the East, are 62-27 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and they are hoping to reach their ninth Final Four. MSU, which is appearing in its 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament, 29th overall, and has a pair of national titles to its credit (1979 and 2000), is 26-11 this season.
Tom Izzo has led Michigan State to the Elite Eight nine times now, and a win in this contest would send the Spartans to the Final Four for the seventh time during his amazing tenure.
Louisville is the No. 4 seed in the region, and it has reached this juncture of the tournament by getting by No. 13 seed UC Irvine (57-55), No. 5 seed Northern Iowa (66-53) and eighth-seeded NC State (75-65). As a result, the Cardinals sit at 27-8 on the season. Louisville has been a force in the NCAA Tournament over the years, going 75-41 in 41 total appearances, with 10 Final Four appearances and three national titles (1980, 1986 and 2013).
Under Rick Pitino, the Cardinals are in the Elite Eight for the fifth time since 2008, and a win here would make them Final Four participants for the third time in the last four years. With Friday's win over NC State, Pitino's record in NCAA Tournament regional semifinal games improved to 12-1.
This bout marks the third meeting between the two teams in the NCAA Tournament since 2009. Louisville, which leads the all-time series by a 5-3 margin, won the most recent matchup with the Spartans, taking a 57-44 decision in the 2012 Sweet 16.
Michigan State has played exceptionally well at the defensive end in this tournament, holding its three opponents to 33.1 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a paltry 20.8 percent showing beyond the arc. Offensively, the Spartans have been led by Travis Trice, who is averaging 20.7 points in three NCAA Tournament games, shooting 45.5 percent from both the floor overall and 3-point range, while converting 85.7 percent of his foul shots.
Trice hit for 24 points, Denzel Valentine had 18 and Branden Dawson secured 11 rebounds for MSU in Friday's win over Oklahoma. Those efforts were much-needed as the Spartans shot just 38.6 percent from the floor, going 9-of-27 out on the perimeter, and they went just 9-of-16 at the free-throw line. Fortunately, the Sooners struggled just as much, draining 36.4 percent of their total shots, which encompassed a miserable 4-of-17 effort from distance.
Montrezl Harrell scored 24 points to lead four players in double figures, as Louisville ended fellow ACC member NC State's NCAA Tournament run on Friday. Terry Rozier logged his third career double-double by netting 17 points and grabbing 14 rebounds, while Quentin Snyder tallied 14 points and Wayne Blackshear 10 more for the Cardinals, who shot an even 50 percent from the field, despite going just 3-of-12 from 3-point land. An 18-10 edge in points at the charity stripe helped matters, as did the fact that UofL committed only five turnovers, which was the fewest ever for the team in what was its 116th NCAA Tournament game.
Except for the opening test against UC Irvine in which they shot just 41.8 percent from the floor, the Cardinals have done a nice job converting their field goal attempts in the tourney. Blackshear, Rozier and Snyder have scored in double digits in all three games, and Louisville has committed 10 or fewer turnovers 16 times this season, including all three NCAA Tournament games.