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How we got here: Revisiting Michigan State’s road to the Final Four

Bookended by two great games, the Spartans have had an interesting run to Minneapolis

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Michigan State vs Duke Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In finding its way to the Final Four, Michigan State has done something no Big Ten team has done since :checks notes: umm, well, Michigan exactly one year ago.

Still, despite the Wolverines claiming FIRST status against its in-state rival, the Spartans being among the last four standing in college basketball isn’t any less of an accomplishment.

And while Michigan State is looking forward with its eye on becoming the first Big Ten program to capture a National Title since Tom Izzo and company did so way back in 2000, it’s worth taking a quick look back on the path Sparty followed to Minneapolis.

No. 2 Michigan State Spartans 76, No. 15 Bradley Braves 65

There’s definitely an alternate timeline where Bradley pulled off the major upset and knocked Michigan State out of the dance before it ever really got going.

Alas (or thankfully if you’re partial to go green, go white chants), in reality that wasn’t the case.

Still, the Braves are deserving of a ton of credit for holding a one-point lead at the half despite fading late and leaving Des Moines with only a moral victory.

With all said and done, however, this game won’t be remembered for Cassius Winston’s 26 point outing or Matt McQuaid’s cold-blooded three at the 3:31 mark of the second half that final put Sparty up by two possessions. No, it’ll be recalled as the game where Tom Izzo lost his damn mind (side note — he does this a lot and it really isn’t all that big of a deal) and sparked talking-head outrage that fueled at least a days worth of media narratives.

No. 2 Michigan State Spartans 70, No. 10 Minnesota Golden Gophers 50

In case you missed it, the Big Ten was really, really good this year. Case in point, thanks to a cornucopia of qualified teams, Michigan State met conference foe Minnesota in only the tournament’s second round.

Despite the familiarity, however, the Gophers didn’t put up much of a right against Sparty.

Managing only 19 points in the first half, Minnesota’s effort to knock off Michigan State essentially boiled down to Amir Coffey and no one else. The junior guard scored 27 points and was the only Golden Gopher to crack double figures.

For Michigan State, it played textbook team basketball with all five starters scoring somewhere between nine and 15 points. Additionally, thanks to the lopsided win, Tom Izzo managed to get his team some rare March rest ahead of the upcoming Sweet Sixteen.

No. 2 Michigan State Spartans 80, No. 3 LSU Tigers 63

Moving from Iowa to the heart of Big Ten country in Washington D.C. (I hear you screaming conference traditionalists), Michigan State had another fairly easy day at the office against the Will Wade-less LSU Tigers.

Freshmen forward Aaron Henry made news for the right reasons in this one, as his 20 point evening on 9-of-14 shooting led the way for the Spartans. Not to be forgotten, Mr. Do-Everything Cassius Winston scored 17 points of his own, which was his seventh straight game scoring in double-digits.

In the grand scheme of things, this was a pretty boring game as far as Sweet Sixteen’s go, ultimately serving as the smallest of foot notes for the epic Elite Eight game that waited right around the corner.

No. 2 Michigan State Spartans 68, No. 1 Duke Blue Devils 67

You know, now that I think about it, referring to this game as just epic might not be doing it enough justice.

In what was easily the best Elite Eight of my memory, the Spartans and Blue Devils made a ton of pre-game storylines live up to the hype in a one-point game that featured two of college basketball’s all-time great coaches and the consensus No. 1 draft pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

Utilizing a shortened rotation, Michigan State managed to overcome an off night, by normal standards, for Cassius Winston (9-of-23 shooting for 20 points) and an as expected dominating performance from phenom Zion Williamson (24 points, 14 rebounds) to best the Blue Devils and find its way to the Final Four.

Sophomore Xavier Tillman was the big story for the Spartans, with the forward emerging with a 19 point, nine rebound night while going toe-to-toe with Duke’s talented freshmen. Thanks to his performance, Michigan State and an actually shocked Tom Izzo managed to cut down the nets and survive to play another day.