Michigan State’s Unexpected Final Four Run Mirrors UConn’s 2014 Championship Season


College basketball fans watched a surprise 7th seed UConn Huskies team make a historic run to win the 2014 NCAA National Championship. Led by eventual Miami Heat first-round draft choice Shabazz Napier, the Huskies entered the tournament with mild expectations as a 7-seed but went on to dominate the tournament and take home the crown.


UConn began the season ranked 18th. A 9-0 start paired with a huge win over the eventual #1 ranked Florida Gators pushed them to #10, but losses to Stanford, Houston and SMU saw the team plummet to the low 20s for a majority of the season. Many saw potential in the underachieving Huskies despite their bad losses after wins over Louisville, Florida and Cincinnati during the regular season but the unexplained poor play during stretches of the season had experts worried about the Huskies heading into the tournament.


Prior to the NCAA Tournament, the Huskies did put together a nice run in the American Athletic Conference Tournament beating a 19th ranked Memphis squad and a 13th ranked Cincinnati team for the second time before falling in the conference championship game to 5th ranked Louisville. The quality wins during the regular season, a solid 12-6 conference record and a run in the AAC tournament outweighed the Huskies’ poor loses and landed them a 7-seed.


The Huskies barely got past the first-round but fortunately pulled out an overtime win over a 10-seed Saint Joseph’s team. Although the Saints Joseph’s squad was the least talented team the Huskies faced, they were the only team to really compete with UConn as the Huskies went on to dominate the rest of their games. UConn beat a 2-seed, 3-seed, 4-seed and 1-seed in Villanova, Iowa State, Michigan State and Florida, respectively. The Huskies then faced Kentucky in the Championship after the Wildcats defeated Wisconsin in the Final Four.


Now what does all this have to do with the surprising run the Michigan State Spartans have put together in 2015 to make it to the Final Four? Well, Michigan State’s season not only has similarities to the 2013-2014 UConn season but almost perfectly mirrors the Huskies championship run.


Like the Huskies of a year ago, the Spartans began the 2014-2015 season ranked 18th. The Spartans also saw their regular season consist of quality wins combined with bad losses. Michigan State had quality wins over eventual tournament teams like Iowa and Ohio State but saw loses to lowly Texas Southern and Nebraska.

Like the 2013-2014 Huskies, Michigan State made a solid run in their conference tournament prior to the NCAA Tournament picking up a win against 8th ranked Maryland before falling to an eventual 1-seed in OT to Wisconsin in the tournament championship. The quality wins and a solid 12-6 conference record combined with a run to the conference championship game earned the Spartans a 7-seed.


But it wasn’t just the Spartan’s regular season, conference tournament and NCAA tournament seeding that has social media clamoring over comparisons to the 2014 champs; Michigan State, like the Huskies, defeated a 10-seed, 2-seed, 3-seed and 4-seed to reach the Final Four. Like UConn, the two teams across the bracket potentially waiting to face the Spartans if they can pull out a win in the Final Four over the 1-seeded Duke Blue Devils are Kentucky and Wisconsin.


So to recap the comparisons:

Unfortunately for the 2014-2015 Michigan State Spartans, the competition in this year’s Final Four is considered by many to be leaps and bounds ahead of the competition the Huskies faced. UConn beat a solid Florida team in the Final Four but the Gators were touting a veteran squad, not an NBA-bound squad; not one of the seniors on Florida’s #1 overall ranked squad were drafted. The Kentucky team UConn faced lost no players and added what many consider the greatest recruiting class ever.


The Duke team facing Michigan State is led by the potential overall #1 pick in this year’s NBA draft, Jahlil Okafor. If the Spartans are able to move past Okafor and Coach K, most likely an undefeated and loaded Kentucky team will be waiting. Kentucky touts multiple NBA draft prospects including freshman Karl-Anthony Towns. The NY Knicks are hoping Michigan State’s luck runs out and they get to see a match-up between Okafor and Towns as experts with Gambling.com have pegged the Knicks to finish last in the Eastern Conference giving them the best chances of landing the #1 overall pick in the draft.


Regardless of whom the Spartans face moving forward, they have their ace-in-the-hole in veteran coach Tom Izzo. Izzo continues to produce in March year-after-year and can potentially use his experience to overcome whatever inefficiencies the Spartans might have. The Spartans are just hoping their similarities with the 2013-2014 Huskies continue and they can hoist the championship trophy Monday night.