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What Can The Spartans Do In This Year’s NCAA Tournament?

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What can Michigan State do in the Big Dance?

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament- Wisconsin vs Michigan State Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans were everything but a consistent team this season, unless you are looking at turnovers. MSU opened the first half of the season with just two losses to top-10 teams while picking up quality non-conference wins and beating up on the lower teams of the Big Ten. Then down the stretch Michigan State lost seven out of 10 games to close the regular season, one of the worst stretches in Tom Izzo’s career.

Despite the struggles, the Spartans tournament streak lives on with a 24th straight trip to the big dance as Michigan State earned a spot in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. The team will now prepare to face Davidson in the First Round on Friday. The winner most likely move on to face No. 2 seed Duke on Sunday.

But what can Michigan State do with the bid? Can the Spartans once again show why the team’s head coach is nicknamed “Mr. March” with an improbable run of upsets at the No. 7 seed in the West region of March Madness? Let’s take a look at the bracket and what to expect.

Opening Round

Michigan State will face off against former Spartan Foster Loyer in the opening round late Friday night as the team takes on the No. 10 seeded Davidson Wildcats. The former MSU point guard has helped elevate the Wildcats this season from a13-9 NIT team last season to a NCAA Tournament team with a 27-6 record (15-3 Atlantic 10 record).

Besides the dramatic storyline the matchup presents for media to write about regarding facing off against Loyer, the game itself should be a competitive one.

Michigan State has struggled to overcome elite three-point shooting this season and Davidson is one of the top teams from deep in the country. The Wildcats rank No. 45 in the country in three-point offense, averaging 8.8 three-pointers per game on 291 makes overall this season. Illinois ranks No. 30 (9.2 per game) and Iowa No. 26 (9.3 per game) for comparison, both teams that beat Michigan State this season.

It will take some tough defensive play from the Spartans to have a chance, but more importantly it will take an aggressive offensive performance. That might just be possible for Michigan State as Davidson ranks No. 149 in adjusted defense nationally per KenPom. Comparatively, the Spartans rank No. 55 in the same category. However, while MSU sits at No. 40 overall in KenPom to the Wildcats’ No. 41, Davidson sits at No. 11 in offense to Michigan State’s No. 38, the widest margin of the three main statistics. This is no easy first round draw for the No. 7 seeded Spartans.

If They Advance

Should Michigan State beat Davidson, it would then advance to the Round of 32, where it would most likely face off against No. 2 seed Duke on Sunday, though No. 15 seed Cal State Fullerton will hope to be yet another miraculous upset squad of a two-seed. The Blue Devils will of course be expected to play with extra hard vigor in hopes of sending retiring head coach Mike Krzyzewski out with a March run deep into the bracket. This Duke team certainly hasn’t shown that thus far, though, with a loss on its home court to end the season and a Saturday exit from the ACC Tournament by 7-seed Virginia Tech.

After that, Michigan State would be looking at Texas Tech, Montana State, Alabama, or Rutgers/Notre Dame in the Sweet 16. Tech as the No. 3 seed looks the most daunting of the bunch, ranking first nationally on KenPom in defense. While Chris Beard may no longer be with the program, MSU is familiar with the tough defensive style of the Red Raiders that slows down opponents.

The Crimson Tide could also easily be the team to make it to the second weekend, though, led by guard Jahvon Quinerly. He and Jaden Shackelford are why Alabama’s dynamic offense features wins over Gonzago and Baylor, among the five total wins over top 20 KenPom squads. Rutgers is a familiar foe the Spartans would know and Notre Dame can present defensive challenges as well.

If Michigan State can work the March Magic just a little harder this year, the team would be looking at an Elite 8 matchup against most likely Gonzaga, though Arkansas or UConn could make a run as well. The Spartans already defeated UConn at the Battle 4 Atlantis back in November. While unlikely, a potential Final Four game should MSU advance that far would come against a team like Baylor or Kentucky while Purdue or UCLA could always surprise as well. Arizona, Auburn, and Kansas would be the favorites for potential national championship opponents.

Overall

This Michigan State team is a tough one to pin down. Perhaps the easiest conclusion for the squad is the fact the team can’t get out of its own way most of the time. The team ranks No. 301 in the NCAA for total turnovers on the season with 445, or 13.1 per game. The Spartans are also inconsistent on offense. Regardless of an opponent’s defensive prowess, MSU could rarely get out of the 60s in points starting with the home loss to Northwestern on Jan. 15.

Having said that, Michigan State has shown brief flashes, especially during the non-conference schedule, where it can toe-to-toe and win against even top-25 opponents. Wins over UConn in November and road wins at Wisconsin and home versus Purdue featured a MSU squad that can certainly make a deep-run to the second weekend if that same team shows up on the court.

Then of course, there is also the coaching staff that needs mentioned. Not for nothing, Tom Izzo is a tournament magician. Izzo’s teams feature some of the highest percentages of upsets of any NCAA Tournament coach in history. Just two tournaments ago, his squad made a Final Four run that included a huge upset over Duke in the Elite 8. Despite this team’s struggles, can this MSU squad find that magic like so many under Izzo before it? We will certainly know soon.