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Men’s N.C.A.A. Tournament: Day 2 Starts With Overtime

SportMen’s N.C.A.A. Tournament: Day 2 Starts With Overtime

CHARLOTTE — History is not necessarily on Michigan State’s side for tomorrow’s round of 32 matchup versus No. 1 seed North Carolina. Tom Izzo has played North Carolina four previous times in the NCAA Tournament … and lost all four. (MSU also lost the only other NCAA Tournament game between these teams, before Izzo became head coach.) But somehow, these teams haven’t met in the Big Dance since the 2009 national championship game — a game the Tar Heels won by 17 points.

“We had played North Carolina early in the year, and I think got beat by 25,” Izzo told reporters Friday. “It just goes to show you how good a coach I am, because in that championship game … we only got beat by 20 in that game. So (we) improved from the beginning of the year.”

Of course, much has changed since 2009 — and even since 2017, the last time these teams met at all. (MSU won that game, in the PK80 Invitational in Portland, 63-45.) For starters, obviously, Izzo’s longtime friend Roy Williams is no longer UNC’s coach; Williams retired in 2021 and was replaced by Hubert Davis, his longtime assistant. Izzo said he and Williams still speak frequently, including this weekend in Charlotte.

“He’s been brought up well,” Izzo said of Davis. “I’m a big Roy Williams fan.”

But there are ample other connections between these particular teams. It’s almost unbelievable. For starters: UNC wing Paxson Wojcik is the son of current Michigan State assistant coach Doug Wojcik (who was also previously at North Carolina). Izzo heavily recruited UNC center Armando Bacot, even offering him a scholarship as a junior. Tyson Walker, Michigan State’s star guard, is a former AAU teammate of R.J. Davis, UNC’s leading scorer and the ACC Player of the Year. Walker has even played against North Carolina before, back in 2021, when he was still at Northeastern; Walker scored 27 points then, causing Williams to briefly recruit Walker out of the transfer portal prior to his commitment to Izzo’s Spartans.

It goes even beyond that, though. Former UNC chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz recently left Chapel Hill to become Michigan State’s president … and was seen sitting with Williams behind North Carolina’s bench on Thursday, when the Tar Heels beat Wagner. The programs’ women’s teams played Friday in nearby Columbia, S.C. in the first round of the women’s tournament, too. (UNC won that game 59-56, nearly blowing a double-digit third-quarter lead.)

“It’s all good. The president, the women’s team playing, the relationship with players, those are all good,” Izzo said. “But come 5:30, it’s the Hatfields and the McCoys — and then at 7:30 it’s back to hugging and kissing, I guess.”


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