However, another top seed wasn't so lucky

711462.jpg

However, another top seed wasn't so lucky

From Comcast SportsNet
Michigan State's surprisingly successful season ended with a thud. The Spartans started the season unranked, then accomplished enough to be a top-seeded team in the NCAA tournament. They advanced to the round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years, but ended with perhaps their poorest performance of the season. Louisville sent Michigan State home with a 57-44 win Thursday night in the West Regional semifinals. "It's hard to feel good and hard to feel bad," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "It's hard to feel good because I don't think we had anybody that played at all like they played in the last three weeks. But it's hard to feel bad because Louisville deserved it." Michigan State entered the game on a roll, winning three games to earn the Big Ten tournament title and its first two games in the NCAA tournament. The Spartans saved their worst for last. They made just 29 percent of their shots overall and got outrebounded by the Cardinals, whose zone defense slowed down a previously effective offense. "We thought we was pretty well prepared for it," forward Draymond Green said. "It's not our coaches' fault. I think they gave us a great game plan. At the end of the day, players play, and we didn't, we just didn't execute well." Green, though, did for much of the season. The do-it-all forward was chosen the Big Ten player of the year, the conference tournament's most outstanding player and broke Greg Kelser's school record for career rebounds. Green is graduating this spring, leaving the program with a big void on and off the court. The Spartans also will be without departing seniors Austin Thornton and Brandon Wood. Michigan State returns a solid nucleus of players, including point guard Keith Appling, centers Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne along with guard Branden Dawson, whose freshman season was cut short by a left knee injury. Dawson has had surgery and hopes to be ready to join the team for preseason practices next fall. The Spartans have a highly touted recruiting class, including two of the top in-state players, Bay City's Matt Costello, who won the Mr. Basketball award and runner-up Denzel Valentine of Lansing, along with Gary Harris, who was recognized as the top player in Indiana, and Ohio's Kenny Kaminski. Michigan State won the Big Ten title for the third time in four years, claimed the conference tournament championship for the first time since 2000 and advanced to the NCAA's round of 16 for the 10th time in 15 years. For the first time in four NCAA tournaments as a No. 1 seed, Izzo didn't guide the Spartans to at least four wins to reach the national semifinals. His record fell to 7-3 in the round of 16, and he wasn't happy about preparations for the first regional semifinal with just three days off. The team flew to Arizona on Monday night, a day after beating Saint Louis, to prepare for Louisville. "I think I made some mistakes, too, I really do," Izzo said. "I'd never come out on a Monday again. I think we needed more time (in East Lansing). It was just a weird situation for us. Michigan State started the season in an unusual position, not ranked in The Associated Press preseason poll. The Spartans had just two players -- Green and Appling -- who averaged double digits in minutes last year. After setbacks in showcase games against North Carolina on an aircraft carrier and to Duke in New York, the Spartans won 15 straight, including at Gonzaga, against Indiana and at Wisconsin. They then lost three of five in January and rallied with a seven-game winning streak that gave them a piece of the Big Ten title. They ended up sharing it by closing the regular season with two straight losses. Izzo and his players overcame the loss of standout Dawson at the Big Ten tournament in wins over Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa and with two victories in the NCAA tournament. "We had a special year," Thornton said. " We know we did some things at Michigan State that haven't been done in a long time "Our ultimate goal was to make it to New Orleans to the Final Four. We weren't able to accomplish that." Izzo said no one played well, or coached well, in the finale. "We grew together, we won together, we had fun together, we cried together," he said. "You couldn't even look at one guy or blame one guy; collectively we just didn't get it done."

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Blackhawks break late tie to best rival Blues

Patrick Kane scored his 24th goal of the season and Artem Anisimov scored the game-winner as the Blackhawks beat the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Sunday night.

The Blackhawks have won nine of their last 10 and are one point within the Minnesota Wild, whose bye ends on Monday night. Duncan Keith recorded a secondary assist for his 500th career point. Scott Darling, starting for Corey Crawford (illness), stopped 30 of 32 shots.

The Blackhawks got off to a 2-0 start in the first 12 minutes of the game, thanks to Jonathan Toews' 16th goal of the season and Kane's power-play goal. But the Blues kept chipping away and forced a tie game by the end of the second period.

But the second line, which hasn't been quite as productive lately, got in on the act late in the third. Panarin threw a perfect feed to Anisimov, who scored his 22nd of the season with 5:20 remaining in regulation.

Tanner Kero added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds remaining.

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

john-groce-0226.jpg
USA TODAY

Illini keep NCAA tournament hopes afloat with dominant win over Nebraska

Illinois' last-ditch effort to reach the NCAA tournament is still alive.

The Illini won for the third straight time and the fourth time in their last five games Sunday night, using a monstrous second half to fly past the Nebraska Cornhuskers by a 73-57 score in Lincoln.

Illinois started the Big Ten season 3-8, but with this recent surge it's up to 7-9 and with two regular-season games remaining has at the very least given itself a much better position in the upcoming Big Ten Tournament and perhaps has played itself into a spot on the NCAA tournament bubble.

Defense has been the driving force throughout this recent stretch, and Sunday was no different, with Nebraska scoring just 57 points, the second straight game in which Illinois has held its opponent under 60 points.

But offense told the story Sunday, with the Illini catching fire in the second half and shooting the lights out at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Illinois shot 59.1 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes, including a stellar 8-for-13 from 3-point range. The Illini outscored the Huskers by a 43-29 margin after halftime.

All in all, Illinois shot 48.1 percent on the night and 13-for-26 from behind the 3-point line. The Illini's 73-point output was their highest since Jan. 25.

Malcolm Hill had a game-high 19 points and moved past Cory Bradford for fifth place on the program's all-time scoring list. Tracy Abrams joined Hill in double figures with 13 points. Hill and Abrams each hit four 3-pointers. Maverick Morgan scored 12 points.

Tai Webster scored 17 points for Nebraska, the only Husker in double figures on a poor offensive night. The team shot 37.5 percent from the field and went just 4-for-15 from 3-point range.

Illinois still seems like a bit of a longshot to make the NCAA tournament given its 17-12 overall record and the weakness of the Big Ten this season. But things are getting real late in the season. This surge could very well help the Illini end their three-year tournament drought and could do big things for head coach John Groce, who has had his job status talked about all season long.

Illinois' final two regular-season bouts come this week against Michigan State and at Rutgers.