Don’t hold your breath on Michigan and Michigan State both opening the NCAA Tournament at Little Caesars Arena.
At least, that’s what ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi thinks.
“At this point, I would say the chances of both being there are very unlikely,” Lunardi said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
That means a repeat of 2013 when both teams played at The Palace of Auburn Hills on the first weekend of the tournament seems like a longshot.
According to Lunardi, it boils down to the teams around both Michigan State and Michigan on the seed list where Detroit is also the closest spot, namely Xavier, Purdue and Cincinnati.
In Lunardi’s updated bracket Thursday, he has Xavier as a No. 1 seed and Purdue as a No. 2 seed, with both opening in Detroit. He has Michigan and Michigan State as No. 3 seeds with the Wolverines going to Wichita and the Spartans heading to Nashville.
However, Lunardi said it’s possible that Michigan State could end up at Little Caesars Arena instead of Xavier because of its proximity to Nashville and Pittsburgh. According to crashingthedance.com, Nashville is one mile closer and Pittsburgh is only 25 miles farther for Xavier compared to Detroit.
“Now how much does the (selection) committee want Michigan and Michigan State atmosphere in that building is hard to say,” he said. “You could do that, but it would be going against typical bracketing practice.
“They could choose to put Xavier or Cincinnati in Pittsburgh, which is only about a 20-mile difference and try and open up a Detroit slot. They just have not done that in the past. They go one team at a time and look at the mileage — I call it drop and slot — and then move on to the next team on the list.”
Which means, of course, the likelihood of two spots being open in Detroit for both Michigan State and Michigan is not good.
Back in 2013, Michigan and Michigan State both opened up at the same site — The Palace — when the Spartans were a No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region and the Wolverines a No. 4 seed in the South Region.
If a spot does come open at LCA, Lunardi believes Michigan State would grab it.
“I think Michigan State will be higher on the seed list than Michigan, in spite of losing to them in Big Ten tournament and Michigan winning the whole thing,” Lunardi said. “Michigan State did finish two or three games ahead of them, I think, in the regular season and even with an unbalanced schedule that’s still a significant difference.
“So, I’m confident Michigan State will be ahead of Michigan on seed list, so that if there’s a spot in Detroit that’s open they will get it.”
What could help the Spartans is a change in the overall seed list. Lundardi currently has Xavier, Purdue and Cincinnati higher than Michigan State and, aside from Xavier, could see some shuffling there.
How the committee sees it is harder to gauge. When it revealed its early top 16 seeds last month, Michigan State was No. 11. Whether that has changed will be the key, though the Spartans would need to move up at least three spots from there to get into the top eight, which they’d need to be to gain a No. 2 seed.
“I would personally still have Michigan State as no worse than a 2 just from a basketball perspective,” Lunardi said. “But here we are, and if they were 11 overall before losing early in the Big Ten tournament it would take a lot of arrogance on our part as pundits to put them (where they would) be required for them to be a 2.”
Lunardi added he doesn’t think Michigan will rise any higher on the seed list and doesn’t believe the extra time between the Big Ten tournament and Selection Sunday will impact the committee’s evaluation.
“I don't think they're going to get better than a 3,” he said. “More likely if I'm off, it will be in the other direction…I would like to see them as a 3. I think they're really dangerous.”
Staff writer Matt Charboneau contributed