It’s do or die time for Michigan State as the Spartans will enter their 21st straight NCAA Tournament as the three seed in the Midwest Region. Michigan State was ranked in the top 10 all season long and climbed up to No. 1 at one point so now is the time for the Spartans to cash in on all of that regular season success.
Michigan State enters the NCAA Tournament as one of the trendy picks to cut down the nets in San Antonio, but they also will have arguably one of the hardest paths to the Lone Star State. Let’s take a look at the Spartans’ path to what could possibly be Tom Izzo’s eighth Final Four appearance and second National Championship.
The Spartans will open up the NCAA Tournament close to home at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit against 14 seed Bucknell Bison. Bucknell is a sneaky good team, but playing right down the road will make this a favorable first round matchup for Michigan State.
Bucknell may not be a well-known team to many Big Ten fans, but this is a dangerous matchup for the Spartans. Bucknell is dancing for a second straight season, entering the NCAA Tournament with a 25-9 record as the Patriot league champs. Bucknell had some impressive performances earlier this year, including a 12-point loss at North Carolina and two-point defeat against Maryland, where the Bison were leading by 15 at halftime. The Bison also had a nice win against Vermont — who was one of the better mid majors in the country this season.
What makes Bucknell so dangerous is their three seniors who lead the team in scoring. All three — forward Zach Thomas, center Nana Foulland and guard Stephen Brown — average more than 14 points per game and combine for 50.6 of the team’s 81.1 points per game. So to put it simply, the Bison have some guys who can put the ball through the hoop.
One downside of Bucknell is their lack of size. They have no player taller than 6-foot-9, which could be an issue compared to the Spartans who feature some size downlow. The other thing to watch for is the Bison’s poor shooting from three-point range, which ranks outside the top 200 nationally. Hitting shots from outside is normally a big factor in pulling off an upset of this nature — just look at that Middle Tennessee State game two years ago.
Speaking of that all-time NCAA Tournament upset, that learning lesson could serve as a benefit for this year’s team. Making sure Michigan State isn’t on the wrong end of a huge upset like that game two years ago could help the Spartans get past Bucknell on Friday.
If They Advance
The Spartans should get past Bucknell in the first round, which would create a Sunday second round matchup against the winner of six seed TCU and 11 seed Syracuse-Arizona State, who will meet in a First Four matchup on Wednesday. The Horned Frogs are most likely the team Michigan State would face, but never count out Jim Boeheim should the Orange make it past the Sun Devils on Wednesday.
After that things become extremely interesting in Omaha where the Midwest Region’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games will be held. If things go as they are supposed to, then the Spartans would most likely need to beat two seed Duke and one seed Kansas in order to reach the Final Four.
Spartan fans know how well Izzo has fared against Coach K so getting over that hump in the Sweet 16 would certainly be challenging. Then you’d have to possibly beat Kansas in a venue that’s only three hours away from the Jayhawks’ campus. So it’s fair to say nothing will come easy for Michigan State in this tournament.
Playing at Little Caesars Arena was always the goal for Michigan State this year so being slotted close to home is big for the Spartans. But playing in your backyard doesn’t guarantee success, especially when you’re playing a team like Bucknell in the first round. The Bison have three really talented seniors that will keep this one interesting for at least the first half. I like Michigan State to get a win here, but it won’t be easy.
It’ll only get harder after that first round game with the Spartans possibly facing three teams that were all ranked in the top 10 at one point this year before they even reach the Final Four. I won’t look too far ahead at this point in time, but let’s just say that if the Spartans make it to San Antonio then they will have deserved based on this draw. Let the madness begin!