Last season, Louisville stormed through the NCAA Tournament's first three rounds only to lose to North Carolina in the East Region finals – one step short of reaching the Final Four.
Now, Rick Pitino has his team knocking on the Final Four door again.
"We were in the same situation last year and fell short of everybody's dream to get to a Final Four," said Pitino. "So we're very excited to be playing a great Michigan State team."
Louisville is coming off a dominant 103-64 victory over No. 12 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16 Friday night. The Cardinals didn't do much wrong against the Wildcats, shooting a scorching 57 percent while handing out 29 assists.
the Final Four.
But points – and wide-open shots - likely won't come as easily for Louisville against Michigan State as they did against the Wildcats. The Spartans play hard-nose man to man defense and are one of the best rebounding teams in the country – two ingredients that helped them earn the regular-season Big 10 title.
"We realize that it will be a lot more difficult to get open shots," Pitino said. "We'll be playing against very intense man-to-man defense. We're going against, rebounding margin-wise, the number one rebounding team in the country."
The Spartans earned their slot in the regional finals by knocking off Kansas 67-62 as Kalin Lucas scored seven points in the final 49 seconds. Michigan State made 16 of 17 free throws and committed only 13 turnovers against the Jayhawks. A physical team that pounds the backboard, Pitino likened Michigan State to Big East rival Pittsburgh, a team the Cardinals beat 69-63 earlier this year.
"I told the guys today when they look at Michigan State, they're looking at Pittsburgh," said Pitino. "We try to identify all the time with a Big East team someone we're playing. Michigan State reminds us of Pittsburgh. They're a great rebounding team, great defensive team. They're fundamentally extremely sound."
Michigan State has struggled at times this season with turnovers. Louisville hopes to cause the Spartans problems with relentless full court pressure and an aggressive half court 2-3 zone that extends out to ball handlers on the perimeter. Not known as a fast-paced team, Michigan State players said Saturday they plan to run with the Cardinals.
"Michigan State is able to play fast. They're very good on the break, very underrated on the break, very good in transition," Pitino said. "Any time you rebound the ball as well as they do, they're going to be good in transition."
Two of the game's biggest keys will be how well Michigan State handles Louisville's pressure and whether or not the Cardinals can match the Spartans effort on the glass. Having played in a physical league like the Big East this season, Louisville believes they're ready for any challenge.
"I think the advantage we have of playing in the Big East is you play against so many different styles, which allows us to be ready for anything. So however the game is played, we're able to adjust to it," Pitino said. "It's (rebounding) going to have to come from more than Earl and T-Will. The ones, twos and fives are going to have to step up and rebound the ball."
After falling short last year in the East Region finals, Louisville appears poised to claim their reservation to Detroit for the Final Four.
"They know what they're up against," Pitino said. "They don't give you a lot of open looks. So we've got to make sure we take high-percentage shots. There's so much at stake right now. So no matter who you're playing right now, you're going to play a great team."
Tip-off is scheduled for 2:20 pm and the game will be broadcast on CBS.