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Astute Michigan State basketball fans this week noticed that ESPN’s well-respected bracketologist Joe Lunardi dropped the Spartans from a 2 seed to a 3 seed. And that was after beating Purdue.

On Tuesday night, during ESPN’s Michigan State-Minnesota telecast, Lunardi explained himself, saying he was only following the lead of the NCAA Selection Committee.

The committee surprised folks recently when it unveiled the top 16 seeds of the NCAA Tournament — at this point — and had the Spartans a 3 seed, 11th overall.

The committee’s reasoning, by and large, is Michigan State’s so-called soft strength of schedule.

“Their logic was Michigan State, by its own standards, has not piled up the number of quality wins that they typically do,” Lunardi said of the committee. “In this year’s Big Ten, numerically, there aren’t the quality wins to be had that there are in a typical season.”

Lunardi, who had Michigan State as the No. 5 overall seed in last week’s rankings, said he still considers Michigan State “one of the top two or three basketball teams in the country, regardless of what the paper says. That’s why in November, I picked them to win the national championship.”

Lunardi has four Big Ten teams making the NCAA Tournament — Purdue as a No. 1 seed, Michigan State as a 3, Ohio State as a 4 and Michigan as a 6. He has Nebraska among his first four out, even at 20-8, 11-4 in the Big Ten. His reasoning: Nebraska has zero top-50 wins, although it actually does — having beaten Michigan, 72-52. Michigan is No. 38 in the RPI, and No. 27 in KenPom.

The exchange, during the second half of Tuesday night’s game, was a tad awkward, as ESPN game analyst Dan Dakich defended the Big Ten, suggesting those calling the Big Ten “soft” aren’t well-informed.

Lunardi sternly defended his position.

“The reality is, only a quarter of the teams in the league, maybe a third, are going to go to the Tournament,” Lunardi said. “And that would be the worst Big Ten of the modern era.

“If you don’t want to use the word ‘soft,’ that’s fine. Maybe it’s ‘mediocre,’ maybe it’s ‘below average,’ maybe it’s ‘lackluster.’ Either way, it’s not up to standard.”

Michigan State is No. 1 in the latest coaches’ poll, and No. 2 in the latest Associated Press poll.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/tonypaul1984

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