Tom Izzo and Michigan State begin their bid for the 2021 NCAA Tournament championship one game behind the vast majority of the 68 teams.
That’s because the Spartans, seeking their first national title since the 2000 tournament, will start March Madness as a First Four team, paired against UCLA in the final game of the NCAA first round on Thursday.
It’s a curious location for the Spartans, even with their 15-12 record and 9-11 season in the Big Ten. That’s because Michigan State boasts some of the best wins of any tournament team this season, including four teams participating in the NCAA tournament. Those teams include Illinois (seeded No. 3 overall), Michigan (No. 4), Ohio State (No. 6) – all teams the Spartans defeated on or after February 23. They also beat Rutgers (No. 40) on January 5.
DeCourcy (Gonzaga) | Bender (Illinois) | Fagan (Gonzaga) | Lutovsky (Baylor)
It’s true that Izzo’s Spartans team, which started the season at 13th in the AP Top 25 and rose to No. 4, suffered numerous defeats. But all but two of them occurred against Quad 1 teams. Michigan State was 5-10 against Quad 1 teams (only 16 teams had more wins), 4-2 against Quad 2 teams and a combined 6-0 against Quad 3 and 4 teams. .
Michigan State’s placement looks particularly egregious when you see teams like Syracuse and Utah State, also 11 seeded, enter the tournament without an inning game. Orange beat only one ranked opponent all season, won just two road games and boasts a 1-7 Quad 1 record. Utah State has similar credentials on the last metric, with a 2-5 mark. against such teams.
Said Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News on the Spartans’ First Four placement:
“This is the second consecutive NCAA Tournament in which one of the committee’s most egregious failures involved the Spartans. The first infamously occurred in the 2019 tournament, when they were assigned second place in the Eastern Region. (which contained the No. 1 overall seed Duke and superstar Zion Williamson) instead of the Midwest (which didn’t) because it was 120 miles closer from East Lansing to DC The unique location in 2021 (Indiana) meant we could hope to avoid such absurdity, and generally we were.
But putting the Spartans in a First Four game with UCLA made no sense with less accomplished teams like Utah State and Syracuse placed directly in the first round. Neither team was exceptional, but MSU defeated NET No. 3 Illinois, No. 4 Michigan and No. 8 Ohio State. There are teams at the No. 2 seed line that can’t get anywhere near those wins. Syracuse won only one Quad 1 game and complained that their only chances were in away games, as if winning at least one more was forbidden. Utah State’s only victories against the field came in a home series against No. 7 San Diego State. This is puzzling. “
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Michigan State fans are also likely not happy with Mitch Barnhart’s answer on why the Spartans were seeded as a first team. When asked how the committee came to its conclusion, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee said “jokingly”: “We thought it would be a great way to start the tournament.”
That, at least, is true. Michigan State and UCLA (17-9, 13-6 Pac-12) are two of the most historic blue blood teams in college basketball. However, joking or not, Barnhart’s answer won’t make him friends in Michigan. In reality, Wolverines fans can indulge in a bit of schadenfreude at the expense of their rivals.
And, if those teams meet in the Elite Eight, Michigan will be a cooler game than the Spartans.