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Pitino, Izzo meet again

They last faced off in the 2012 Sweet 16.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino are Final Four regulars, and one of them will be back this year even though their teams were counted out weeks ago.

Seventh-seeded Michigan State and fourth-seeded Louisville meet Sunday to settle the NCAA tournament's most-busted bracket.

"Sure as hell fitting for me, and I'm sure for him," Izzo said Saturday. "I think we both kind of came through similar kind of years and in different ways."

The two coaches have four national championships, 15 Final Four appearances, and 98 tournament wins between them. Both have had to reinvent their teams in midstream this season.

The Spartans (26-11), the tournament's lowest remaining seed, lost three of their top scorers from last season. They looked like an NIT team in February, then went on an 11-3 roll capped by tournament wins over second-seeded Virginia and third-seeded Oklahoma.

The Cardinals (27-8) endured adversity in February. That's when Pitino had to reinvent his lineup after dismissing senior point guard Chris Jones and replacing him with true freshman Quentin Snider. Jones faces rape and sodomy charges.

"Our team really knows how to handle adversity, and we've had a lot of it this year," Pitino said. "I think adversity always makes you strong."

The Cardinals, seeking their third Final Four berth in four years, are led by junior do-everything forward Montrezl Harrell, who is averaging 15.7 points and 9.2 rebounds. The 6-foot-8 player, who has declared his intention to enter the NBA draft in June, is as much of a threat from 16 feet as he is dunking.

The Spartans, who had back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2009 and '10, play a scrappy style that leans on defense and transition.

Their recent run has been sparked by senior guard Travis Trice, who is averaging 18.2 points in his last 14 games.

The two programs will meet in the tournament for the fourth time, and third in six years.

The Spartans knocked out the Cardinals in the 2009 Midwest Regional final. Louisville responded by beating Michigan State in the 2012 West Regional semifinal.

Spartans senior Branden Dawson recalls the latest loss all too well. He watched it on television after suffering a knee injury in the regular-season finale.

"It was hard just sitting there and not being able to play," he said. "It will be great for myself being able to play against these guys for the first time."

Louisville is 5-3 against Michigan State, including a second-round tournament win in 1959.

It's not lost on Izzo that the Huskies were a seventh seed last year.

"We watched another No. 7 seed not only beat us but go on to win a national championship," Izzo said. "Maybe we hope history repeats itself."