It wasn’t lost on some folks at the Georgia Dome that in a little more than four months, the Final Four will be taking place in the same arena.
Tom Izzo insisted that was the farthest thing from his mind before, during and after Michigan State’s 67-64 victory over Kansas on Tuesday.
“That’s a little bit ahead of us right now,” he said. “We have to crawl before we can walk and we’re in the crawling stage.
“There’s been years where I’ve used that, but right now we still have a lot of things to find with us, but I love the pieces we have. We are gonna be a lot better, I promise you that. We get (Travis) Trice back and get some rotation here – we have no rotation and that’s my fault.”
While Izzo wasn’t about to talk Final Four, the Spartans did improve their record in the Georgia Dome to 3-0. The last time the played here was in the South Regional of the 2001 NCAA Tournament.
They beat Gonzaga, 77-62, and Temple, 69-62, to advance to their third straight Final Four.
- Interesting that with Adreian Payne in foul trouble all night and Izzo not comfortable using freshman Matt Costello as he recovers from his bruised tailbone that sophomore Russell Byrd played only three minutes against Kansas. Playing the 4 spot is tough for Byrd and he still hasn’t seemed to find a home at the 3 spot, either. Defense will be an issue for him, but he must shoot well from the outside. He took only one shot on Tuesday, a 3-pointer, and missed.
- Derrick Nix missed a few close shots, but he was steady again in the block and scored eight points and grabbed eight rebounds. It was a tough matchup for him against 7-foot Jeff Withey, but he held his own, even making two key free throws down the stretch. Sophomore Alex Gauna had one of his best games, playing extensive minutes with Adreian Payne in foul trouble. Gauna scored six points, all in the first half, but was much stronger going after the ball. He must improve defensively, but his continued progress could cut into opportunities for freshman Matt Costello.
- Michigan State loves playing in the big games and big-time events, but the Spartans admitted it was nice to win one and not just play for the experience. “I like big venues, I like small venues, I like any venue we win in,” Izzo said. “But it’s a big stage and we tell our players when they come here they’ll get to play in unique places. “We’ve got so much work to do but it’s really great for the program and great for these guys. As Nix said, we needed a big win, a top-10 win.”