Start of NCAA tourney is a dream realized for MSU freshmen


Kyle Turk, Sports Editor

DES MOINES, Iowa — Foster Loyer has already been to a Final Four.

Problem is, he can’t remember which one.

“I was real young, it was before I moved to Michigan,” the freshman said on Wednesday ahead of MSU’s first-round matchup with Bradley (2:45 p.m. Eastern, live on WDBM). “That’s been my dream ever since I started watching basketball as a kid. For me, now that I’m out here and actually playing in one, trying to win this one and go from there is a special feeling.”

A best guess is tricky. His father John coached at Cincinnati from 1989 to 1999, and the Bearcats were in a Final Four in 1992. Problem is, Foster wasn’t born until late June of 1999. Perhaps 2001 inside the Metrodome in Minneapolis, or 2006’s from the RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

Either way, Loyer’s one of a handful of MSU freshmen playing their first NCAA tournament minutes on Thursday, and the Clarkston, Mich. native is well aware of the stakes at this point.

“A lot has to do with our preparation leading up to the game,” Loyer said. “Our coaches and seniors are always gonna preach that a lot of times the game is won before you even step out on the court. When we go out there, you gotta be locked in right from the get-go and every possession, every time down the court counts.”

Aaron Henry will start tomorrow in his first NCAA tournament game, and for the Indianapolis native, his most vivid memory involves a Michigan school.

“It’s huge,” Henry said. “I was a fan of college basketball for a long time. I didn’t really watch the NBA. I remember when Louisville won the title [in 2013], Louisville was my dream school. I knew their whole roster, who they were. I used to coach from home a little bit. That was my best memory, but now that they’re in our bracket, not so much. I bleed green now.”

Michigan State heads into Des Moines winners of nine of their last 10 games, and face a 15-seed in Bradley that won their first Missouri Valley Conference tournament in 31 years to earn an automatic bid. The Braves defeated 2018 Cinderella Loyola-Chicago in the semifinals of the tournament before overcoming an 18-point second-half deficit against Northern Iowa in Sunday’s final.

About the Braves

The Braves started 0-5 in conference play before going winning nine of their last 11 games. 5-foot-10 guard Darrell Brown leads the team in scoring, and the Braves’ style can closely resemble this year’s Michigan State team – solid in transition offense and willing to attack the glass offensively.

“I would say we mirror Michigan State in a way,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said at Wednesday’s open practice. Wardle is coaching in his first NCAA tournament game on Thursday. “I have a lot of respect for [MSU head coach Tom] Izzo. I had Dwayne Stephens as my coach at Marquette. We do like to get up and down when the opportunities are there and push it and then we will try to execute in the half court. It’s a great challenge.”

This will be the first tournament game for Bradley since 2006, something that MSU may look to take advantage of with 20 games of tournament experience on the active roster.

“They can shoot from deep,” sophomore forward Xavier Tillman said. “They’ve got some guys who are smaller but they can rebound and they’re tough guys. They play tough, they play really hard.”

Room to improve

Even as one of the hottest teams in the nation, MSU’s players believe there’s work to be done if they are to make the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2015’s Final Four run.

“This last tournament was a one-and-done kind of thing, but our mentality was that it didn’t add any pressure to us,” Tillman said. “We just wanted to get better every game and during the game learn from the mistakes that we made.”

With his first tournament approaching, Aaron Henry still has work to do offensively. The forward averaged 6.7 points a game in his three Big Ten tournament games and has been in double figures in scoring just twice all year.

“My shot selection and my aggression,” Henry said when asked about where he’s looking to grow during the weekend. “Just knowing who I am, why I was recruited here. I’ve never just let somebody just pin a part on me. Just be a player. That’s what I came here to be.”