Spartans bring reputation as giant killers against Kansas
TULSA, Okla. (AP) There are records in Tom Izzo's career he's proud of, and then there are those the Michigan State coach would prefer to distance himself from.
The Spartans' remarkable record as an underdog in the NCAA Tournament is one of those Izzo isn't so sure is a good thing.
Regardless of how Izzo feels about it, Michigan State's reputation as a giant killer in the postseason has been well earned over the years. It's a reputation that was only enhanced with the ninth-seeded Spartans' (20-14) dominating opening-round win over eighth-seeded Miami on Friday night, one they'll put to the ultimate test when they face top-seeded Kansas (29-4) on Sunday.
''Yeah, personally, I don't like it,'' Izzo said. ''... That means we're a bad seed a lot of time, so I don't feel as good about that as maybe I should.''
Michigan State's win over the Hurricanes improved the school to 14-10 in the NCAA Tournament as a lower seed under Izzo. That's the most wins by a school as a lower seed in tournament history - though the Spartans penchant for toppling higher seeds didn't begin until after their sixth NCAA appearance under Izzo in 2003.
That season, a seventh-seeded Michigan State ousted a second-seeded Florida and sixth-seeded Maryland before finally succumbing to No. 1 seed Texas in the Elite Eight. It followed with eight more wins over higher seeds in the next 11 years before cementing its stellar postseason reputation with a Final Four run two years ago.
That appearance came as a No. 7 seed for the Spartans, the lowest seeded team to reach one of the school's six Final Fours under Izzo.
''I really think it's the culture we've developed and the schedule we play,'' Izzo said. ''I don't think we're afraid of anybody, because we've already played some of those teams ... So, maybe it's a lack of fear of that that's given us some success over the years.''
Michigan State continued its longstanding tradition of scheduling top teams to begin this season, one of the reasons it started the season with a 4-4 record. Despite the losses to schools such as Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor and Duke, the experience for the Spartans talented freshmen paid off Friday night.
One of those freshmen, Miles Bridges, grew up watching Michigan State's run of postseason success - one that was extended in the school's 20th straight NCAA Tournament appearance on Friday.
''I think we play better as the underdog,'' Bridges said. ''It just gives us more fuel to our fire. We play with more intensity, more energy, and we're not satisfied with anything.''
One of the regular difficult non-conference matchups over the years for the Spartans has been Kansas, with the Jayhawks wining the last of those early season battles last season.
Izzo and Jayhawks coach Bill Self have met once before in the NCAA Tournament, with Michigan State coming away with a victory in the Sweet 16 in 2009. Self is well aware of what kind of problems the Spartans pose in the postseason, regardless of their seed.
''I don't know what (Izzo) does the beginning of March that's different than what most mortals do, (but) he gets his team always ready to play,'' Self said. ''And our guys respect that and they know that.''
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