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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 3, 2010

Michigan State: M*A*S*H unit finally meshed

 •  Final four will 'D' up, keep scoring down
 •  Most in Indiana have become Butler backers
 •  Michigan St. vs. Butler
 •  Michigan State Spartans

AP National Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Korie Lucious

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INDIANAPOLIS The starting point guard, who also happens to lead the team in scoring and assists, is on the bench with a blown-out Achilles. Another starter is playing on a torn meniscus, which causes such excruciating pain "it feels like somebody is doing surgery on it." Yet another key player has a bum foot.

With apologies to hometown favorite Butler, Michigan State might be the most unlikely team here. One major injury is usually enough to derail a team come NCAA tournament time. Three? You're better served planning some quality time on the couch rather than a trip to the Final Four.

"Of course you'd be surprised," Draymond Green said Thursday. "That's a lot."

The Spartans (28-8) look more like a M*A*S*H unit than a national title contender, have gone through 19 and counting different lineups and are relying on a point guard who has started all of six games, two of which were last weekend. Yet here they are, in their sixth Final Four in the last 12 years and the only team from last year making a repeat appearance.

The Spartans play Butler (32-4) today in the first semifinal.

"I can't even fathom that," Butler coach Brad Stevens said Thursday. "What a great job by them."

This wasn't the typical Spartan team that relies on defense and disciplined players.

Coach Tom Izzo kicked Kalin Lucas, the 2009 Big Ten player of the year, out of practice. He suspended Korie Lucious from a February game at Penn State. And he benched Durrell Summers, perhaps the most talented of the Spartans, for long stretches at a time.

Then Lucas sprained his ankle Feb. 2 at Wisconsin, a game the Spartans lost badly. Lucious, Lucas' backup, admits he wasn't ready for the responsibility, and the Spartans lost their next game at Illinois. Lucas returned against Purdue, but the Spartans still lost their third straight.

Michigan State pulled it together enough to repeat as Big Ten champions, sharing the title with Ohio State and Purdue. But unlike the gritty group that willed its way into last year's title game, the Spartans didn't look like they were long for the NCAA tournament.

Until that second-round game against Maryland, when Lucas tore his left Achilles late in the first half.

After the Spartans got through that game winning on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Lucious they called a players-only meeting. Some players vented about their teammates, others about their own issues. "Whatever it was, everybody in the room spoke up and got it out on the table," Raymar Morgan said. "From then on, the team made a commitment to commit to basketball and basketball only."

Not that it was that easy.

The Spartans won their first four games by a whopping 13 points total. That's the lowest margin for a Final Four team since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Chris Allen, the team's best 3-point shooter, is playing with an injured arch in his right foot.

Then there's Delvon Roe.

Roe has a torn meniscus in his right knee, but decided to keep playing rather than having surgery. Anytime he can practice is a gift, and he plays with the knee heavily taped and in a brace. Yet he's still managing five points, four rebounds and almost 23 minutes in the NCAA tournament.

"Some days it feels it's pretty good, some days it feels like somebody is doing surgery on it while I'm playing," Roe said. "The longer I play, the more pain it causes. But the longer I sit, the more stiff it gets. So it's a lose-lose situation."

Returning to win the title has been Michigan State's goal all year, and injuries don't change that.

"That's what survival is all about," Izzo said. "You do more than somebody else is willing to do."