Indianapolis — The names of the coaches in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament read like a who’s who in college basketball.
Tom Izzo, Michigan State; Mike Krzyzewski, Duke; Rick Pitino, Louisville and Dana Altman, Oregon. Between the talented coaching quartet, they have accumulated more than 2,500 career victories, 23 Final Four appearances and six national championships, along with sending dozens of players on to professional ranks.
With less than 24 hours before the teams tip off for Sweet 16 action in the 70,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium, MSU sophomoreguard Travis Trice said taking in the difficulty of the region is all part of making a run in the Big Dance.
“That’s what we look for, that’s what you come here for and that’s why you want to play in the tournament,” Trice said. “I mean, when everybody looks back at it, they’re going to look at the thing and go, ‘Hey, you guys had one of the toughest regions.’ And if you can win out, it makes it that much more special.”
Tonight, the No. 3-seeded MSU men’s basketball team (27-8) is set to take on No. 2-seeded Duke (9:45 p.m., CBS) in the state-of-the-art football venue that usually plays host to the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts. The game will be preceded by the matchup of No. 1 seed Louisville and No. 12 seed Oregon (7:15 p.m., CBS).
Setting up shop on a raised floor in the stadium, the teams held open practices Thursday. Hundreds of supporters gathered to show support, including a strong contingency of MSU fans who erupted in a “Go Green, Go White” chant toward the end of Izzo’s practice.
Continuing his first postseason run, freshman guard Denzel Valentine said the lively atmosphere gave practice a different feel in anticipation for Duke.
“It was on a big court with a lot of fans cheering for us,” Valentine said. “It was nothing like I’ve experienced before. I mean, just coming out here and practicing in front of all these fans and having intensity and the crowd getting into it — It was really fun.”
After running his team through various shooting drills, Izzo said continued matchups with top teams is part of what makes March Madness so special, but his gameplan is for his players to stay “solid” at both ends of the floor to give his team a chance to advance.
“When the opening brackets came out and I saw the Midwest Regional, I did what most Spartan fans did, I took a little sigh and sat back, and then I said, you know, this is the way it’s supposed to be,” Izzo said. “If you can get through the first weekend, everybody knows every game is going to be dynamite, and what a better program to start out with than Duke.”