MSU, Michigan at LCA? Here’s what will determine their fates

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Michigan players celebrate after beating Purdue to win the Big Ten tournament championship.

On a Saturday afternoon back in 2013, The Palace of Auburn Hills was rocking.

It was the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament and both Michigan State and Michigan were playing – the Spartans as the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region and the Wolverines as the No. 4 seed in the South Region.

Both teams rolled that day as the sellout crowd watched Michigan State trounce Memphis and Michigan knock off VCU before the Wolverines eventually reached the national championship game a little more than two weeks later.

The atmosphere that weekend was electric. It’s the atmosphere many were hoping to get – some expecting – when it was announced Little Caesars Arena in Detroit would host first- and second-round games in this season’s tournament.

More: ESPN: Why Michigan won’t win the national title

Before the season began, Michigan State seemed like a good bet to play close to home. However, even though they’ve been near the top of the rankings most of the season, the grip on LCA has been weakening, even with a Big Ten regular-season championship.

For Michigan, becoming a tournament team was the priority, but like John Beilein has done more than once, he has the Wolverines rolling into March with another Big Ten tournament championship and the chance to end up close to home as well.

But how likely is it? How likely is it one or both teams will open the NCAA Tournament in Detroit?

That’s tougher to answer. There are two main factors when trying to determine where a team will land. The first is the overall seeding and the second is bracketing. The seeding needs to be completed first, at which point, it comes down to geography when placing teams in the bracket.

Overall seeding

The bulk of the committee’s work is on determining the overall seed list from 1-68. It will use plenty of metrics to determine that list with RPI still being one of the main factors.

This season, the committee announced it was using a quadrant system, placing each game into four groups based on RPI rankings in an effort to add more weight to road games and those played at neutral sites.

Michigan State's Jaren Jackson Jr. dunks against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament semifinals.

Here's a quick breakdown of the four quadrants:

Quadrant 1: Home games vs. RPI 1-30, neutral games vs. RPI 1-50, road games vs. RPI 1-75.

Quadrant 2: Home games vs. RPI 31-75, neutral games vs. RPI 51-100, road games vs. RPI 76-135.

Quadrant 3: Home games vs. RPI 76-160, neutral games vs. RPI 101-200, road games vs. RPI 136-240.

Quadrant 4: Home games vs. RPI 161-351, neutral games vs. RPI 201-351, road games vs. RPI 241-351.

Why does this matter? Because when the committee published its early top 16 seeds in early February, it relied heavily on this system.

Michigan has six Quadrant 1 wins and Michigan State just three. There’s no doubt that will factor in for the committee in seeding both teams, but so too will the fact all four of MSU’s losses are Quadrant 1 while Michigan has one in Quadrant 3.


Once the seed list is complete, the committee then begins to place the teams in the bracket, giving teams seeded 1-4 preference based on geography. The committee starts with the No. 1 overall seed and moves down through No. 16.

It’s a system that was announced back in 2002, called a pod system, with the goal of getting teams to play as close to home as possible. So, proximity of tournament sites to the campuses of the teams is the No. 1 priority in putting together the bracket.

More: Wojo: Mich-again — Wolverines are legit NCAA contenders

So, Michigan and Michigan State should be in a good position, right? Well, that’s when we go back to the seeding. A close look shows there are several teams that could likely be seeded higher overall than Michigan and Michigan State where Detroit is also the closest destination.

Based on the latest RPI rankings, at least three teams that count Detroit as the closest site are ranked higher – Xavier, Purdue and Cincinnati. The selection committee won’t follow only the RPI. It will use several factors, so determining the final overall seeding is still tough. However, the RPI gives an indication, and currently it looks dicey for Michigan or Michigan State playing in Detroit.

The final bracket

What Michigan State hopes to see on Sunday is something that resembles what Jerry Palm of CBS posted Monday. He believes the Spartans are still a 2-seed and has them in Detroit. What Michigan State hopes is more inaccurate is the bracket of Joe Lunardi at ESPN. He has MSU as a 3-seed in Nashville.

Michigan is out of luck in both projections. Lunardi has the Wolverines as a 3-seed in Wichita and Palm has them as a 4-seed in San Diego.

Moritz Wagner makes a 3-pointer in the Big Ten championship game on Sunday.

Of course, neither bracket – or any other projection floating around – is set in stone. Most of the major conferences still have their tournaments this week that could affect several of the top teams, meaning the seed list will be shuffling right through Sunday.

The wild card in all of this is the committee can move teams to different sites even if it’s not the closest site. For example, Xavier is closest to Detroit but it is only about 20 miles farther to Nashville and 30 more to Pittsburgh, both of which are hosting first- and second-round games. The committee could put Xavier and Purdue both in Nashville, as Palm did. That allowed him to place Michigan State and Cincinnati, both 2-seeds, in Detroit.

There’s no hard and fast guideline the committee follows on moving teams, but one new wrinkle this season is the committee asked teams being considered for the top overall seed their preference for a first-round site. That could factor in to the committee moving teams, as well.

So, the waiting game continues – for Michigan State, for Michigan, for those heading to LCA regardless of the teams.

One thing is clear, there’s only one city every team wants to end up at in a few weeks.

“The NCAA I'm sure will put us in a good bracket and we will do everything we can to win one practice at a time, leading up to that one game at a time,” Beilein said. “And if we're still around in San Antonio, we'd be delighted.”


What: First- and second-round NCAA Tournament games at Little Caesars Arena.

When: Friday March 16 and Sunday March 18.

Teams: The eight teams in Detroit will be announced during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday at 6 p.m. on TBS.

Notable: Other sub-regional sites are Pittsburgh, Wichita, Dallas, Boise, Charlotte, Nashville and San Diego.