In their sodium-pentathol moments, NCAA suits had to crave this.
A Michigan State upset of Connecticut in Saturday's Final Four semifinals would not only assure a championship-game madhouse at Ford Field, but also eliminate the chances of their most awkward trophy presentation since 1990.
Granted by a relentless, sneaky fast, superbly coached bunch of Spartans pushed by a tournament-record throng of 72,456.
"It was hard to explain the emotion of the day," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after his team's 82-73 victory.
Indeed, given its climate — snow is possible today and Monday — and gritty downtown, Detroit was a curious choice to stage a Final Four. But when the event was awarded in 2003, the domestic auto industry was roaring, and then-General Motors ayatollah Rick Wagoner teamed with colleagues from Ford and Chrysler to sway the NCAA.
No one, not Dick Vitale, Jim Cramer or Magic Johnson, could have envisioned the economic crisis of '09, the Big Three's corresponding meltdown, and Michigan State's emergence from the Midwest Regional to create the largest and loudest home court in Final Four annals.
Explaining the Spartans' success Saturday is much easier. They traded body blows with the bigger Huskies and defied convention by running against an opponent that was averaging 87 points a game in the tournament.
"We thought we had depth over them," Izzo said. "That's why we had to run and wanted to run."
Izzo and his staff thought right.
Michigan State's bench contributed 33 points and 14 rebounds to UConn's seven and six. The Spartans scored 22 points in transition, 12 more than the Huskies.
The pace was fastest early in the second half. Trailing 49-47, Michigan State scored three fast-break buckets in 66 seconds, prompting UConn coach Jim Calhoun to call time and bringing the crowd to its feet.
Izzo was a fist-bumping dervish on the sideline, and perhaps for the first time, the crowd seemed to sense that Michigan State (31-6) could prevail.
Coaching in his fifth Final Four, Izzo was brilliant. Twice in the second half, he drew up an inbounds play that created a bucket within seconds.
The first came on a Goran Suton right-wing jumper with 7:02 remaining and gave the Spartans a 64-54 lead. The second came nearly five minutes later when Suton caught a pass about 40 feet from the rim and hit a back-cutting Durrell Summers for a layup and a 73-62 edge.
Reserves Summers, Draymond Green and Korie Lucious — a sophomore and two freshmen — combined for 29 points. Starters Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas, the Big Ten player of the year, combined for 39.
In short, Michigan State was better coached and prepared, and more poised. The Spartans had 10 more assists (18-8) and five fewer turnovers (11-16) than UConn did.
"I knew we weren't going to back down from anybody," Izzo said.
"But neither were they. … I thought they were the most physical team we played all year."
So convinced was Izzo of the game's brutality that during the week he had two football coaches — Minnesota Vikings assistant Pat Morris and former San Francisco and Detroit big whistle Steve Mariucci — speak to the Spartans.
Sure enough, both teams gave us the requisite flexing and posing after Travis Walton's rough foul of UConn's Jeff Adrien with 1:55 remaining in the first half. But no one went all MMA, and officials — Hampton Roads' Les Jones worked the game — prudently issued no further sanctions.
"We are the blue-collar team. This is the blue-collar city," Izzo said.
Calhoun credited Izzo with "a masterful job of putting the woes of the auto industry and Detroit and Michigan on his back. … They have a cause. Any time you have a cause, it's a great, great thing to rally people around."
A 2005 Hall of Fame inductee, Calhoun leads a program reeling from a Yahoo! Sports report detailing apparent NCAA recruiting violations. Presenting the trophy Monday night to UConn (31-5) would have been almost as uncomfortable as 1990, when Nevada-Las Vegas and its notorious coach, Jerry Tarkanian, collected the hardware.
Instead, Monday's championship game will be about Michigan State's quest.
"I think everybody's having hard times," Walton said. "Rich people losing their money. Poor people ain't getting no money."
Izzo reflected on Saturday's bus ride to the stadium.
"You go by some tough homes," he said, "some tough places. … I hope we were a ray of sunshine, a distraction for them, diversion, anything else we can be.
"We're not done yet, so hopefully we can continue to make them feel a little better and us feel a lot better."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun