Spartans Cash Their Once Improbable Ticket Another Final Four with 70-69 Win Over Tennessee Here in Saint Louis

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Saint Louis, MO

Edward Jones Dome

You can call it destiny, or maybe even providence, whatever word you use to describe the Spartan's improbable run to the 2010 Final Four, probably won’t be significant enough.

Four weeks ago Tom Izzo bemoaned that this team hadn’t come together and some of the players needed to learn to be good teammates. Four weeks ago the Spartans were a team of great individuals without championship chemistry. Four weeks ago this team wouldn’t have crossed the street to have a hamburger unless their leader Tom Izzo mandated it. Tonight, four weeks ago is ancient history.

Izzo wanted to win the Big Ten tournament more than any year before .  Frankly speaking, this group of individuals embarrassed him when they were beaten by Minnesota. His temper burned as he sat great individuals on the bench in the second half. “This is a joke for a program like ours here at Michigan State to have gone this long since winning this,” was what he told me after the loss.

Tonight it has all changed. When the team returned from Indianapolis and that terrible loss in the Big Ten tournament, they met the Monday following the selection show. Durrell Summers stood and gave an impassioned plea to his teammates. They met for a long meeting in which this group of individuals talked. Summers talked about his heart and his love of the game and told his teammates that his lack of emotion wasn’t a lack of heart.

“He just told us some things and really kept it real with us and it meant a lot,” was how Draymond remembered that meeting. “I just felt like I needed to open my heart and I needed to let people see it. That really isn’t how I do it, but how I did it wasn’t the right way. I can trust coach Izzo and I needed to learn that. I haven’t always been able to judge people. I just really talked with my teammates about what was in me,” was how Summers described the team meeting.

It started. “It was like a hand with five players, but starting at that meeting and ending with the half time of the Maryland game the fist closed and this group became a team,” was how assistant coach Mike “The Bishop” Garland described it.

They have 'it'. They now play for Kalin and they now hang his jersey in the locker room and in what can only be described as one of the most amazing transformations in sports, this group is a team. They play tough. They play defense. They now look more like an Izzo team than at any point last season.  Most importantly, they have found a way to bond through adversity and find the chemistry that was missing most of the season.

This team had it’s 6’6” 243 emotional leader Draymond Green playing point and calling for the ball.  That brought back memories of greatness seen more than thirty years ago. “At MSU we are used to a 6’9” point guard,” was how Earvin “Magic” Johnson described Green’s performance.

He may not have the grace of Magic, but this team follows him.  Unlike last season, when no one believed they could beat UNC in the championship game, this team could cut down the nets again in eight days.  MSU could cut down the nets without their All Big Ten point guard Kalin Lucas on the floor.

With this win, Tom Izzo joins Coach K at Duke as the ONLY two coaches since the NCAA tournament was expanded to 64 to make six Final Fours in twelve years. This one is special. This one was the most improbable. This one had the talent, but not the heart. This one acted entitled. This one acted like the game owed them. Until a loss in Indianapolis spawned a necessary meeting that put this team back on track.

Chris Allen is playing on a torn ligament. Delvon Roe is battling with half a knee. Kalin is doubling as a cheerleader and a coach. Korie Lucious is leading them when most thought it couldn't be done.  Durrell Summers has become an emotional leader in addition to sharp shooter and defensive stopper most recently.

Who would have thought a loss in Indy could be the birthplace of a return trip?  The last time they headed to Indy, they were a talented group of individuals. They return this coming week as a beat up team with the heart of previous Spartan champions. This team has good chance to cut down the nets.  Nobody considered them part of the Final Four cast on selection Sunday.  Somehow the Spartans themselves believed when everyone else in the nation forgot to pencil them in for more than a round.

What is the reason? What is the key? They found their heart. They found their passion. They finally listened and believed in the greatest college basketball coach since John Wooden.  We around the Spartan Nation kindly refer to him as Tom.  College basketball now knows him as Mr. March.

Hello Indy. You won’t recognize these Spartans because they aren’t the same team that you saw two weeks ago. They weren’t a team then, but they are now.