Michigan State's Izzo goes for his 1st March Madness win against North Carolina in the West Region

Fri, Mar 22, 2024

Michigan State's Izzo goes for his 1st March Madness win against North Carolina in the West Region

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Tom Izzo has made Michigan State a perennial postseason force, turning 26 straight trips to the NCAA Tournament into multiple takedowns of higher-seeded foes, eight Final Fours and one national title.

On Saturday, the Hall of Famer will try to do something new in March Madness: Beat North Carolina.

"We're still going to show up," Izzo said Friday. "We're going to show up (Saturday), and we're going to see what we can do. I don't look at us as a 9 seed, and some of that's my fault. I do look at them as a 1 seed.

"And yet I think this year with parity in college basketball and craziness, I bet you nobody feels any more comfortable than anybody else."

The Michigan State-UNC matchup comes in the Tar Heels' home state, one of two games Saturday in the West Region. The other will be played in Salt Lake City, where No. 2 seed Arizona meets No. 7 Dayton after the Flyers' big first-round comeback.

The ninth-seeded Spartans beat eighth-seeded Mississippi State on Thursday to set up another meeting with the West's top seed, which beat 16th-seeded Wagner. That sets up the fifth NCAA meeting between the programs in Izzo's tenure. The Tar Heels have won the first four, three of those involving some of the best UNC teams in the past half-century.

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There was a 1998 loss in the Sweet 16 to a UNC team led by eventual national player of the year Antawn Jamison and All-America wing Vince Carter, a group that went to the Final Four. The next meeting had UNC taking over after halftime to win in the 2005 Final Four on the way to now-retired Roy Williams' first national title.

Then, after a second-round loss to the Tar Heels in 2007, the teams met for the championship with the Spartans playing with a home-state crowd at Detroit's Ford Field. The Tar Heels - who had beaten the Spartans in the same building a few months earlier by 35 points - ran out to a 46-22 first-half lead and coasted to Williams' second title.

"That team, as they warmed up," Izzo said, "I thought it was the Celtics or the Pistons, and that was during the Pistons' championship runs."

The next chance comes with the Tar Heels playing in front of a home-state crowd.


UNC guard Cormac Ryan, in his sixth college season after playing for Stanford and Notre Dame, has had some success against Michigan State dating to his time with the Fighting Irish.

He had 23 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including 6 of 7 from behind the arc, in a Notre Dame victory last year. In two games, Ryan has made 9 of 14 3s against the Spartans.

"We came out with a lot of great energy, we defended them really well which helped our offense," Ryan said of last year. "Then, yeah, I was able to get some open looks early and knocked them down and got hot."


There are multiple connections running through Michigan State and UNC. It starts with a father-son tie between Spartans assistant coach Doug Wojcik and his son Paxson, a Tar Heels reserve.

Michigan State guard Tyson Walker and UNC guard RJ Davis also played against each other before their college days with both hailing from the New York metropolitan area.

"I've known RJ for a really long time," Walker said. "We've had some good games against each other. So just to be able to play at this level against each other ... it's going to be big time. Hopefully we can both play well."


AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

AARON BEARD Beard covers sports in North Carolina for The Associated Press with an emphasis on college basketball. His coverage includes ACC sports and the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. twitter mailto "
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