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"I talked to them this morning about separating themselves," Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. "We've gone through a lot of things this year, not as bad as sometimes portrayed, and yet not as smooth as some years that we've had."
They still have the core of the team that made the national final last year in an inspiring run that ended close to home, in Detroit, with a blowout loss to North Carolina. The Tar Heels didn't make the tournament this year.
Michigan State benefited from being in the most topsy-turvy region in a tournament that long will be remembered.
No. 1 seed Kansas, the odds-on favorite to win the title when the brackets came out, went out the first weekend, upset by No. 9 Northern Iowa. Tennessee took out No. 2 Ohio State, and No. 3 Georgetown was gone only a few hours into the tournament, upset by No. 14 Ohio.
The Spartans only had to beat one team seeded higher -- No. 4 Maryland on a buzzer-beating 3-point shot by Lucious, the kind of shot that could make a team wonder if there might be something special going on.
Speaking of destiny, Butler (32-4) will bring a 24-game winning streak to Lucas Oil Stadium, a 10-minute drive from campus.
The Bulldogs are the first team since UCLA in 1972 to play a Final Four in their hometown -- one of about a dozen intriguing story lines for America's favorite little guy.
They play and practice in Hinkle Fieldhouse, the gym where scenes from the ultimate hoops underdog story was filmed. In "Hoosiers," a small Indiana school, Hickory High, makes an inspiring run to the state title. In real life, Butler isn't quite that kind of underdog, but the coach, Brad Stevens, said there's no way to play for his program without getting the gist.
"Not a week goes by where somebody who hasn't seen the fieldhouse doesn't walk into the fieldhouse and at least mouth the word, 'Hickory,'" Stevens said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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