MSU a No. 7 seed, will open NCAA vs. Georgia
Chicago — There was little doubt Michigan State felt like it got one get away on Sunday in the Big Ten tournament championship.
But even after losing in heartbreaking fashion to top-seeded Wisconsin, 80-69 in overtime, there was plenty the Spartans were looking forward to — namely an 18th straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
And nearly every Spartan agreed, the last three days at the Big Ten tournament that included wins over Ohio State, Maryland and a classic against Wisconsin proved they can play with any team in the nation.
"We didn't get the Big Ten title we wanted but a new tournament starts next week," Michigan State center Matt Costello said. "(Our chances) are very good. This is Michigan State. We play for March and this is another opportunity to showcase what we've got.
"We can be a scary team."
Wisconsin learned that on Sunday. The Badgers earned a No. 1 seed with the victory, but it didn't come easily. They had to rally from an 11-point deficit late in the game to force overtime where they eventually pulled away.
"They're playing extremely well right now," Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said. "That was a high-level NCAA Tournament game right there, if you ask me, as far as the crowd, the intensity, the swings, the up‑and‑down.'
And now Michigan State (23-11), which finished the regular season tied for third place in the Big Ten, will get another shot to win a championship as the No. 7 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. It will face No. 10 Georgia at 12:40 p.m. Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina, with the winner playing Sunday against the winner between No. 2 Virginia and No. 15 Belmont.
With 18 straight berths in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan State trails Kansas (26) and Duke (20) for the longest active streak.
Michigan State never has played Georgia, but it defeated Virginia in last year's Sweet 16.
After the game Sunday, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo wasn't focused on Georgia — there will be plenty of prep for the Bulldogs over the next few days.
Instead, Izzo was talking about what his team has accomplished and what it will take to make a run over the next couple of weeks.
"It takes a tough team and I thought we showed some toughness," he said. "It takes a good team and I thought we adjusted to a quick turnaround and I think we proved that (we are good). It takes a disciplined team and I don't think we proved that."
The Spartans have certainly proven their worth despite an up-and-down season. In addition to the close battle with Wisconsin, they beat No. 8 Maryland on Saturday and early in the nonconference season played Duke to a 10-point loss, fell to Kansas by five and lost by one at Notre Dame.
And despite leaving Chicago without a second straight conference tournament title and fifth overall, they feel like they made even more progress.
"I think we learned a lot about our team," senior guard Travis Trice said. "I feel great where we're headed right now. Our coaching staff did a great job of preparing us all weekend. Players did a good job of executing and carrying out the game plan and not losing heart. It feels bad to lose, but we're happy with where we're at right now going into the tournament."
Added fellow senior Branden Dawson, "We were one of the last two teams in the championship, so we can't hang our heads. We still have another chance with the NCAA Tournament coming up. We played good, so right now we definitely feel comfortable going into the tournament."
There's still one more chance for this team to win a title, one that will be decided at the Final Four in Indianapolis in three weeks. And the Spartans believe they can be there.
"We've grown a lot and we've made some positive changes and steps toward being the team we want to be," junior Denzel Valentine said. "And that is a Final Four team. Wisconsin is a Final Four team and we had them beat. We made a couple of bad plays and they won. We'll just get back to work tomorrow."
EAST REGION MATCHUPS
1 Villanova vs. 16 Lafayette
2 Virginia vs. 15 Belmont
3 Oklahoma vs. 14 Albany
4 Louisville vs. 13 UC Irvine
5 Northern Iowa vs. 12 Wyoming
6 Providence vs. Boise State
7 Michigan State vs. 10 Georgia
8 North Carolina State vs. 9 LSU