Michigan State has easily been one of the hottest teams in college basketball the past month. The Spartans have won nine in a row, just won the Big Ten Tournament and are in No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
All of that has made the Spartans a popular choice to win the national title. Its always hard to make such predictions, but Michigan State is as smart a pick as any team. And a year after making a somewhat surprise appearance in the Final Four, Tom Izzo's crew is probably the favorite from the conference to make it back.
But the Spartans will have far from an easy road to Houston. Here's a look at their side of the bracket and some potential matchups.
The Spartans begin the tournament with a matchup against Middle Tennessee in the opening round of the Midwest side of the bracket. The Blue Raiders have won six in a row and are a pretty deep team, but you've got to expect Michigan State to prevail here.
That would set up a game in the second round against either seventh seeded Dayton or 10th seeded Syracuse. The Orange have lost three in a row and aren't coming into the tournament with much momentum, but a win over Dayton would certainly change that. As for the Flyers, they dropped a tough 82-79 contest to St. Joseph's in the A-10 title game, but have still been a very good team this year. No, they're strength of schedule wasn't great, but the Flyers went 25-7 and beat Iowa earlier in the season. While they don't have a ton of size, they do bring plenty of depth and consistency to the table. They aren't a team that will just roll over.
The Spartans are expected to reach the Sweet Sixteen, but Dayton is the team most likely to keep them from getting there.
If Michigan State does reach the Sweet Sixteen, the four teams it could possibly face are Utah (3), Seton Hall (6), Gonzaga (11) and Fresno State (14). Out of those four, Utah and Seton Hall appear to be the most dangerous. The Utes won nine in a row before getting destroyed by Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game, and Seton Hall has plenty of momentum (and possibly fatigue) after winning the Big East Tournament. But Gonzaga (WCC) and Fresno State (Mountain West) are also coming off conference tournament title wins. So whatever team Michigan State (hypothetically) gets will be riding a hot streak.
Then you have to look at the other side of the bracket, where Virginia (1), Iowa State (4) and Purdue (5) are the highest seeds fighting for a spot in the Elite Eight. The Cavaliers are a great team, but they have a worse record (26-7) than Michigan State (29-5) and wouldn't be a huge favorite if the two teams played. Iowa State is talented but underachieved this season and have lost two in a row entering the tournament. And while the Boilermakers have been playing strong basketball recently and beat Michigan State in overtime on Feb. 9, they also just lost to them in the Big Ten Tournament Championship. The other teams on that side of the bracket in the Midwest are Texas Tech (8), Butler (9), Little Rock (12) and Iona (13).
The Midwest is going to be really tough and there are plenty of teams that could pick off the Spartans if they show up unfocused. But Michigan State is playing as well as any team in the country, and could definitely go on a title run.