There’s more than just a Big Ten tournament championship at stake for Michigan State and Michigan this weekend.
According to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, the Spartans and Wolverines have a shot to improve their standing and move up to a No. 1 and No. 2 seed, respectively, in the NCAA Tournament.
Lunardi said if Michigan State is able to reel off three wins in three days at the United Center in Chicago and sweep the conference regular-season and tournament titles, the Spartans “have to at least get some serious discussion to get up to that top line.”
“I think there's basically three scenarios for two spots on the top line,” Lunardi told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “Virginia is going to be a one. No matter what people are saying about last night (losing to Saint Mary's in the West Coast final), Gonzaga is going to be the one in the West. So that leaves an ACC spot, Duke-(North) Carolina in my view, an SEC spot and Michigan State is a wild card.”
Lunardi’s updated projections Wednesday had Virginia, Gonzaga, North Carolina and Kentucky as the No. 1 seeds.
He had Michigan State (25-6) listed as a No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region and Michigan (26-5) as a No. 3 seed in the South Region, with both programs opening in Des Moines, Iowa.
But in order for Michigan State to land a No. 1 seed, Lunardi said three things have to happen.
“One, Kentucky losing before the championship game of the SEC tournament, preferably for Michigan State's case to someone other than Tennessee,” Lunardi explained. “Two, Michigan State has to win the Big Ten tournament. And three, the committee still has to be working and building brackets late in the afternoon on Sunday to reflect that.
“I'm not sure which of those three scenarios is the least likely."
Lunardi added he could see Michigan State as the No. 5 overall seed as long as it reaches Sunday’s tournament championship game and thinks the Spartans’ floor is a No. 2 seed regardless of what happens in Chicago.
As for Michigan, Lunardi said he has the Wolverines as the highest No. 3 seed and LSU as the weakest No. 2 seed.
“Personally, I think Michigan is a two to my eye, and I think with a couple wins here at the Big Ten (tournament) that's where they will eventually end up but no worse than three,” Lunardi said. “And is there really that much of a difference? You're talking about a potential Sweet 16 game, two versus three, where the only difference is what color uniform you're wearing.
“The teams that they play —14 or 15 and more realistically after that a six or seven, it's more matchups than level of opponent at that point.”
Michigan coach John Beilein said earlier this season that location and seeding isn't important to him. Rather, it's all about who your team is going to play.
"You could have the exact wrong matchup for you, for your team in Round 1 or 2, and all of a sudden your season is over," Beilein said. "It could be one team and it could be a team that's not seeded highly, and it could've been a great matchup for somebody else.
"There's so many good teams. All 68 teams can beat anybody. They're all champions. Some they either were good enough to get in the NCAA Tournament or they were champions of their league. They're pretty good. It's a little bit of luck of the draw there. There may be a couple teams that are up there at one, two or three that have outstanding talent that they can win on a bad day. The rest of the teams are going to have to play well or as we saw last year with (No. 1 seed) Virginia and (No. 16 seed) UMBC, anybody can beat anybody."
The Spartans and Wolverines will both open Big Ten tournament play on Friday in the quarterfinals. Michigan State, the No. 1 seed, will play the winner of Indiana and Ohio State at 12:30 p.m. Michigan, the No. 3 seed, will play either Illinois, Iowa or Northwestern at approximately 9:30 p.m.