Rematch is set between Michigan State, Virginia
Charlotte, N.C. — When the NCAA Tournament bracket came out, it didn't take long to see a potentially intriguing matchup for Michigan State.
It wasn't the opener, so there was very little talk of it throughout the week.
But after No. 7 Michigan State knocked off No. 10 Georgia, 70-63, on Friday in the East Regional, it was fair game.
On Sunday, Michigan State is going was going to take on Virginia for the second straight NCAA Tournament.
At least it seemed like a sure thing. Second-seeded Virginia, however, needed its best in holding off a spirited effort from No. 15 Belmont before pulling away for a 79-67 victory.
Even before that, however, the Spartans were thinking about the Cavaliers.
"We know that they definitely won't forget about the game last year," Michigan State's Branden Dawson said. "If we are fortunate enough to play those guys then we'll have to come out and play hard. We'll go back and watch film on those guys and we basically know what they do."
To get to Sunday's matchup, Michigan State first needed to take care of Georgia.
It was far from a masterpiece as Michigan State saw several big leads dwindle before pulling out the victory. The Spartans led by 13 at halftime only to watch the Bulldogs cut that margin to two. And after pushing it back to 13 at 60-47, Georgia got within three in the final minute before Michigan State put it away at the free-throw line. It was the necessary first step for Michigan State.
"That was a good team that we beat," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "If you look at a tournament, that first game's the hardest game, and I think (Friday's game) proved that. Unfortunately, I have a feeling our second game's going to be harder. But the first game's the hardest because your players don't know it.
"What I liked about playing on Friday is we had a lot of guys get upset and that's better than me saying 'This could happen.' It's 'Hey watch TV.' By the time we play again there's going to be some more people going down, and we're going to still be standing, at least until Sunday."
It was the epitome of survive and advance, and Michigan State will be banking on last season's 61-59 victory in the Sweet 16 in preparing for this matchup.
"It helps a lot," Michigan State junior Matt Costello said. "We know their basic sets and we know how to guard it. It will be a lot of work and I'm glad we're playing them the second game and not the first. I remember last year and we were so drained for the UConn game (in the regional finals). They're a tough team. They were top-five all year."
Virginia was the regular-season champion in the Atlantic Coast Conference with its only losses coming to Duke and on the road to Louisville. Virginia lost to North Carolina in the conference tournament.
Three starters return from last year's team, but the idea of avenging last season's loss when Virginia was the No. 1 seed in the region was not on the players' minds Friday.
"Last year they beat us in the Sweet 16 and I remember in the locker room everybody just said, 'Remember how this feels,' " Virginia junior Anthony Gill said. "I think this isn't going to be a revenge game, just us going out there and do what we do. I think everybody's hungry to go to the next round and wants to keep moving on so I think we're ready for the challenge and we're going to go out there and do it."
Added leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon: "It's about going out there and establishing ourselves and making it to the next game. The hungrier team is going to win on Sunday so we're going to come out and try to be hungry."
And though Michigan State lost three starters from last year, that doesn't mean Virginia believes it will waltz into the Sweet 16.
"I did watch most of the game against Wisconsin (in the Big Ten tournament) and I said, 'Michigan State's back,' " Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. "That's a real good seven-seed, no doubt. When you get to this stage even in the first round or second round or the next round, you're going to have to play at a high level, so I'm sure it will be a physical game and a hard fought game."
2 Virginia vs. 7 Michigan State
Tip-off: Sunday, 12:10 p.m. Time Warner Cable Arena, Charlotte, N.C.
Records: Virginia 30-3, Michigan State 24-11
Outlook: This is a rematch of a Sweet 16 showdown from last season's NCAA Tournament, won by Michigan State, 61-59. ... Michigan State never has lost to Virginia (4-0). ... Virginia is the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion, but lost to North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.