Seeing Michigan State make it to the Sweet Sixteen once again has to spell relief for one man – Tom Izzo.
The Spartans head coach went through perhaps one of his toughest regular seasons in five years, and to top it off there were plenty of critics ready to write him off as having lost his touch. But once again Izzo and the Spartans looked adversity square in the face and overcame it.
The Spartans are healthy, their chemistry is growing and, more importantly, it's coming during March Madness.
Now the Spartans find themselves taking on the defending NCAA national champions. Izzo said this year's Maryland team is similar to his 2001 team, who had the tough task of protecting a title.
Both teams lost three or four key players but had a core of reserves that had some tournament experience.
This year's Spartan team is by no means a carbon copy of the teams that made three straight Final Four appearances, but rather a team that is looking to make a name for itself.
Sophomore guard Chris Hill was the only Spartan to score double figures in the regular season, 14.0 points per game, and he remains MSU's No. 1 scoring threat. The guard from Indianapolis is scoring 13.5 in the two tournament games and is still proficient from beyond the arch.
Hill hit 90 3-point shots during the regular season, which included a Big Ten and school-record 10 3s against Syracuse. The knock on Hill is that he is prone to turning the ball over, but to his credit he has taken care of the ball better in the postseason. Hill is also the Spartans No. 1 man in assists with 120.
Swingman Alan Anderson has emerged as a leader and is starting to settle in as the Spartans point guard. Anderson, who suffered a dislocated right pinkie finger in early February, has since returned to form. The 6-foot-6 sophomore is averaging 10.5 points and six assists per game in the tournament and is the Spartans best free-throw shooter.
Kelvin Torbert has steadily gotten better as the season progressed. The sophomore guard averaged nine per game in the regular season and was the team's second leading rebounder. Torbert is an excellent defender and should draw the assignment against Drew Nicholas. Torbert's weakness has to be his inconsistent shooting.
Al Anagonye is a force in the post. Thanks to going through four regular seasons in the Big Ten, Anagonye is a warrior and should be able to battle with the Terrapin big men. The 6-foot-8 senior isn't a scoring threat, but if he stays out of foul trouble he could be a huge factor down low.
Freshmen Erazem Lorbek and Maurice Ager are playing like seasoned veterans and the scary part is they still have a good three years left in them. Lorbek, the 6-foot-10 Slovenian, is leading the Spartans in scoring and rebounding in the tournament with 14.5 points and six rebounds per game, respectively. Lorbek can go inside and out, and has the ability to knock down the triple.
The 6-foot-4 Ager is a fearless guard who doesn't shy away from putting up a shot. Ager, who overcame a stress fracture and a fainting spell, has battled through a tough season, but is starting to produce like Izzo expected him to. The freshman is averaging 11 points per game in the tournament.
The knock on these two freshmen may be that they're venturing into uncharted territories, but as long as they continue to just play within themselves and don't buy into the hype they will be a crucial factor if Spartans are to advance.
Another freshman has also shown flashes of greatness in his first season. 6-foot-10 Paul Davis is averaging nine points a game to go along with 4.5 rebounds in the tournament. Davis is another low-post player who likes to step outside and knock down the 15-foot jumper. The big freshman has had trouble turning the ball over, but if he gets in rhythm early it will carry over for the rest of the game.
Forward Adam Ballinger and guard Rashi Johnson round out Izzo's eight-man rotation. Ballinger, a senior, has struggled all season long, but still has the potential to make the big shot. Johnson is a heck of defender and by far the quickest Spartan on the floor could see some big minutes against Maryland's terrific guards.
The Terrapins are a tournament-tested team that has great inside and outside players. They play an aggressive defense and are down-right physical, but don't expect Izzo to not have his team prepared.