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How Did Michigan State Land A Nine Seed and What Can They Do With it?

Despite the unexpected slow start, the Spartans season has come full circle led by this young core group of players.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Despite their 63-58 loss to the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, the Michigan State Spartans were going to be a team headed to the NCAA Tournament.

So, what was their road like this season?

Preseason Expectations

Coming into this season, like always, Tom Izzo’s Spartans were expected to be one of the top teams in the conference and the country. High expectations in East Lansing is a constant and this year it was going to be led by one of the top freshman recruits in Miles Bridges, but the team seemed poised to complete those tasks once again.

Let’s also not forget that senior forwards Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling both suffered season-ending injuries before the season started, which took veteran leadership and depth away from this team.

Non-Conference Play

To begin the non-conference schedule, the young Spartans faced two juggernauts to start the season. In their first matchup of the season with No. 10 Arizona on Nov. 11, they lost a close one by the final score of 65-63. In the second game, the team faced No. 2 Kentucky and lost by a 21-point margin.

The Spartans then bounced back to win three straight against three unranked opponents, averaging about 84 points during that three-game stint.

Following those games, on Nov. 24, the Spartans faced No. 20 Baylor who defeated them by the final score of 73-58. The Spartans then responded during the next game by beating Wichita State by five points, but then, when facing their final ranked opponent of the non-conference schedule in Duke, the Spartans lost 78-69 on Nov. 29.

In the final five non-conference games, the Spartans went 4-1, taking one loss to Northeastern (Yes you read that right, not Northwestern) by the final of 81-73. Bridges did miss these five games and the first two conference games due to a lower body injury. Heading into Big Ten competition the Spartans record was at 8-5.

Conference Play

The Spartans’ Big Ten opener was on Dec. 27 against Minnesota, who they defeated 75-74 in a thrilling overtime game and without their go-to-guy. The team followed that performance up by beating Northwestern by nine points and then showcasing a dominating 93-65 performance over Rutgers in Bridges' return.

The Spartans then played a trap game against Penn State who gave them their first loss in conference play, but the young Spartans responded by dominating No. 24 Minnesota by almost 20 points - which gave them their first win against a ranked opponent on the season. Following that big win, the Spartans dropped three in a row in late January against Ohio State, Indiana, and No. 20 Purdue.

The most notable win down the stretch came on Feb. 26 against the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers, who later made the Big Ten Tournament Championship game. The Spartans won 84-74, but then lost their final two games of the regular season.

You cannot talk Michigan State’s 2016-17 season without mentioning Miles Bridges, which I already have, but they relied heavily on his production as a freshman. His talent helped produce 16.7 points per game, approximately eight rebounds, about two blocks while shooting 48 percent from the field and almost 40 percent from the three point arc.

Freshman big-man Nick Ward, who’s one of college basketball’s hidden under-the-radar talents, has been a force playing about 20 minutes per game. Ward has been very effective producing 13.7 points, about seven rebounds and two blocks.

NCAA Tournament Outlook

The Spartans ended their regular season campaign with a 19-14 (10-8 Big Ten) record and finished 8th in conference, according to the Big Ten standings. The Spartans made the NCAA Tournament, and with their resume the committee made them a No. 9 seed in the Midwest region. In the first round, they’ll face the No. 8 seeded Miami Hurricanes. The regular season has shown us that the Spartans can upset a team like Miami, but if they go head-to-head with an upper echelon opponent (like Kansas in round two), then they’ll have some significant challenges. With that being said, the Spartans will be an intriguing matchup and it depending upon which Spartans team shows up, fana might see some Izzo magic this year.