Michigan State is back as the No. 1 ranked team in the country — well, at least in the Coaches Poll — but in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament committee they aren’t even a top 10 team.
The committee released their first initial seeding rankings on Sunday — similar to the weekly College Football Playoff rankings — to give an idea of where the nation’s best teams would be seeded if the tournament started this week. This is a newer practice with this being the second year the committee has done this, and these initial rankings were bad news for the Spartans.
Michigan State was pegged as the 11th ranked team, which would translate to a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. That’s quite a difference from where the current polls have the Spartans right now. These seeds are by no means set in stone, but it gave us an idea of how the committee views the Spartans at this point in time, and it got me thinking — is it still possible for Michigan State to earn a No. 1 seed?
“With the worst non-conference schedule we can remember for a Tom Izzo team (No. 263), this is as high as the Spartans can climb,” Lunardi wrote, who currently has the Spartans as the top No. 2 seed.
I’m a big fan of Lunardi but I will politely disagree with him on this. It may be considered an uphill battle but there is certainly a lot left on the table that could result in Michigan State earning a No. 1 seed. So with that being said, let’s take a look at a few things that need to happen for the Spartans to work their way onto the top line.
Spartans must win rest of regular season games
This is one of the qualifications where the Spartans actually control their faith, but it could also be one of the more difficult things to have happen.
Michigan State will wrap up the season with three road games — at Minnesota, Northwestern and Wisconsin — and one home game against Illinois. None of those four teams will be dancing this year but as we’ve seen all season long, no road game has been easy for the Spartans.
Four more wins would put Michigan State at 28-3 overall and 16-2 in Big Ten play. That would be the best regular season record for the Spartans under Tom Izzo, and while the strength of schedule is rough, it’s hard to ignore a record like that in a major conference like the Big Ten.
Ohio State must lose at least one game
Saturday’s thrilling victory over then-No. 3 Purdue kept the Spartans alive for a Big Ten regular season championship. However, now they need the Buckeyes to drop at least one of their final four games.
If Ohio State wins out they’ll be the outright Big Ten champs, however, one loss would put both the Spartans and Boilermakers back into play. Both teams would obviously need to win out in that scenario too.
The Buckeyes finish the season with a home game against Rutgers, and road trips to Penn State, Michigan and Indiana. That’s not an easy slate so winning a share of the Big Ten crown is certainly possible for the Spartans. It would also be another feather in Michigan State’s cap if they add a regular season championship to their resume.
Need some other top teams to drop some games
Michigan State will need some help from outside the league in order to climb up the seeding lines. Not necessarily a ton of help, but at least a few losses by some of the teams ahead of them.
Right now, the committee has pegged Virginia, Villanova, Xavier and Purdue as the four No. 1 seeds. Odds are at least one of those — if not two — will drop from the one-line before Selection Sunday. I believe the Big East will get one of the No. 1 seeds and so will the ACC — Duke is still in play for a top seed too. So that leaves two open spots.
The Big 12 and SEC have a few teams still in the picture, and don’t forget about Cincinnati out of the American Athletic Conference. But I still believe the Big Ten is in a good spot to fill one of those remaining spots, and odds are it’ll either be the Boilermakers or Spartans. The deciding factor could be who goes further in the Big Ten Tournament.
Michigan State must at least reach Big Ten Tournament Championship game
The Spartans will at least need to make the final of the Big Ten Tournament to have any chance at earning a No. 1 seed, and it might just take winning the tourney to secure that spot. I’m just not ready to say that’s a must because of the other factors I’ve laid out prior to this.
One thing is certain, however, the only way Michigan State could get a No. 1 seed without winning the Big Ten Tournament would be if they beat Purdue in the semi-final. The Spartans are hurting for some big time wins right now, and they can’t leave New York City without at least one resume-boosting victory. Not to mention, if Purdue were to win out — like I anticipate — and win the Big Ten Tournament then they’d be a lock for a No. 1 seed.
If the Spartans are able to win their final four regular season games — which needs to happen for this No. 1 seed scenario to continue — and lose in the Big Ten Tournament championship game, they’d finish the season 30-4. That’s pretty darn good and could possibly sneak them onto that one line. However, if they were to win all three games at Madison Square Garden then they’d be 31-3 and I find it almost impossible to not grant the Spartans a No. 1 seed at that point.