1999-2000 Season Recap: Spartan-eous Reaction
Everything changed when Kenyon Martin went down. The Conference USA playoff game in which Cincinnati's Martin, the nation's best collegiate player broke his ankle and was lost for the year was the turning point of the tournament and the tournament hadn't even started yet.
The Bearcats and head coach Bob Huggins had title dreams. And why not they were having a terrific season and has the nation's best player in the middle, they were primed for a six-game tournament run. But things happen. Instead of Martin and Huggins soaking in the victory vibes at the Final Four in early April it was another player-coach duo, one equally as special.
Michigan State's Mateen Cleaves and coach Tom Izzo gave the Spartans their first national title since 1979 when another point guard, Magic Johnson, led the Spartans to victory over Larry Bird's Indiana State team in the most-watched tournament game in history. Magic was at the game 21 years later as Cleaves earned Most Outstanding Player honors after leading the Spartans to an 89-76 victory over the unsung Florida Gators in the national title game.
Cleaves was hurt when he rolled his ankle during the second half but he returned and made sure his teammates didn't wilt. Morris Peterson led the Spartans with 21 points, and the Spartans became the first team since ninth-seeded Indiana in 1981 to win every tournament game by double digits.
Head coach Billy Donovan and the Florida Gators, were five-seeds entering the tourney but by the time they got to the Final Four their underdog status was eclipsed by eight seeds, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Wisconsin finished in sixth place in the Big Ten and North Carolina was up and down all season. The Badgers' solid defense protected their suspect offense all the way to the Final Four but they could only manage 41 points against Michigan State, the lowest Final Four total since 1984. The Tar Heels were the preseason favorite in the ACC but stumbled plenty before living up to expectations in the tournament, earning their 15th Final Four appearance.