Michigan State came in to the NCAA Tournament as one of the three or four favorites to win the whole thing. On Selection Sunday, many were surprised that the Spartans didn't receive a top seed after winning their last nine games and the Big Ten Tournament championship.
But the narrative after some evaluation of the Midwest region was that Tom Izzo's group had a nice draw and a very manageable path on their way to what would be the program's 10th Final Four appearance.
Apparently Middle Tennessee had other plans as they shocked the college basketball world with a 90-81 first round victory over the Spartans on Friday afternoon.
Here's the three biggest takeaways from the game.
1. Middle Tennessee won the game
By that, I mean that it wasn't just that Michigan State played so poorly that the Blue Raiders were gifted a victory. They stepped on the gas from the jump and never let up. They made 11 of their 19 three-point attempts. They were more aggressive. They grabbed more offensive rebounds than the Spartans, who are one of the best rebounding teams in the country. They took care of the ball. And down the stretch when I'm sure almost everyone - including myself - was expecting the Raiders to wilt under the pressure of pulling off such a monumental upset, they continued to be aggressive and simultaneously played with more composure than Michigan State. They didn't just hang on to the game, they finished it.
2. The Spartan offense was pressing down the stretch
At the 3:22 mark, Perrin Buford made a layup for MTSU to put them ahead 79-76. From that point forward, it seemed like Michigan State was trying to hit a home run on offense. They wouldn't score until there was 31 seconds left to go in the game.
On the ensuing possession after Buford's layup, Denzel Valentine attempted a pass from the wing to the opposite corner that was picked off. The Spartans got a stop and then Valentine missed a three. They got another stop and then Bryn Forbes missed a three of his own. Matt Costello got an offensive rebound and was fouled, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one. After Giddy Potts made a jumper for the Raiders, Eron Harris had a careless turnover that was taken back for a dunk to put the underdogs up seven under a minute to go. From there, it was just a flurry of made free throws for MTSU and missed jumpers for the Spartans.
For a team that was in the Final Four a year ago, has played so well and composed for the past two months, and is coached by Tom Izzo, it was a very uncharacteristic final few minutes. As poor as the Spartan defense was, they still had a chance to win the game if there was better execution late in the game.
3. Denzel Valentine will want to forget his last game
It's been such an incredible season - and career - for the Big Ten Player of the Year. Friday was the opposite of a fitting end. Valentine scored 13 points - five came in the last minute of the desperate comeback - on 13 field goal attempts. He had 12 assists, but also matched a season-high with six turnovers. The tournament as a whole is worse off with a player of his caliber being eliminated so quickly.