Palm: MSU in dangerous spot, UM in better shape

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Tom Izzo

If there were no conference tournament and Michigan and Michigan State were simply waiting on selection Sunday to see if they made the NCAA Tournament field, they could sleep soundly.

However, while this week’s Big Ten tournament in Washington D.C. offers a chance for both to improve their standing, it also provides a potential disaster. At least, that’s the way one expert sees it for Michigan State.

According to CBSsports.com bracketologist Jerry Palm, it’s the Spartans that would be sweating things out Sunday evening if they lost their opening game on Thursday, one that will be against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between Penn State and Nebraska.

“Definitely,” Palm said when asked if Michigan State should be nervous in that scenario. “You’d be talking about losing to Penn State or Nebraska. Michigan State, one of their problems is they haven’t been all that great away from home. That’s not a big surprise for a young team. But a week ago they were sitting there at 18-12 and winning four out of five and everyone was talking about them being in and I’m looking at the schedule and seeing two road games. They played well in those games and lost at the end in both.

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“But they need another win and they can’t … if they finish with a loss to a non-contender like that I think that would problematic for them. They’re definitely in position to get jumped by somebody or maybe more than one somebody if that happens.”

That would end a 19-year NCAA Tournament streak for Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, and very few times in that stretch have the Spartans headed into selection Sunday wondering if they were in the field.

Of course, they could end all doubt by winning the conference tournament, something they’re used to after reaching the championship game in each of the previous three seasons.

Short of that, Michigan State will need as many wins as it can get to improve on its position for the NCAA Tournament. Currently, Palm has the Spartans as a 10-seed, as does Joe Lunardi at ESPN.com. USA Today seeds Michigan State at No. 8.

And while just one win over a non-contender won’t add much, it will avoid a potentially devastating loss as the Spartans sit in an area of the bracket where there are no certainties.

“Every win gives you a chance to improve your seed; it just depends on what other teams do,” Palm said. “The thing about seeding is you don’t really control your own destiny. You could win and somebody behind you gets a better win and you don’t move up or you can get jumped.

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“It’s always relative, seeding and selection near the bottom of the bracket are areas you don’t really control your own destiny. If you’re close to the bottom of bracket, the only thing you can do is win the conference tournament to guarantee anything.”

Things aren’t nearly as precarious for Michigan, which Palm has securely in the field with a good chance to make a jump with its play this week in Washington. Palm currently has the Wolverines seeded No. 9. The same goes for both Lunardi at ESPN and at USA Today.

John Beilein

Michigan opens the Big Ten tournament on Thursday against Illinois and is the dark horse to win the conference tournament, according to Palm. To do that the Wolverines would likely have to go through Purdue. That alone could move them up a line or two in the NCAA Tournament.

“Because they’d go through the most difficult path to perhaps a conference championship that it would give them some upward mobility,” Palm said. “If they win the Big Ten tournament they could end up as a top-25 team which would be a seven seed to give you an idea of where we’re talking about.

“But if they beat Illinois and lose to Purdue they’re probably a middle-of-the-bracket team, like 8, 9 or 10, something like that.”

As for where each team might end up, that will remain fluid through the weekend. Palm has Michigan playing No. 8 Dayton in Tulsa as part of the Midwest Region with Kansas as the No. 1 seed. He has Michigan State playing No. 7 Virginia Tech in Salt Lake City in the same region.

ESPN.com has Michigan facing No. 8 Miami in Buffalo as part of the East Region with Michigan State taking on No. 7 Creighton in Indianapolis in the South Region.

USA Today pits Michigan against No. 8 Oklahoma State in Greenville, S.C., in the South Region with Michigan State taking on No. 9 Arkansas in Tulsa as part of the Midwest Region.

Big Ten tournament

At Verizon Center, Washington

Wednesday

No. 12 Nebraska vs. No. 13 Penn State, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 14 Rutgers, 7 p.m., BTN

Thursday

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Illinois, noon, BTN

No. 5 Michigan State vs. 12-13 winner, 2:30 p.m., BTN

No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Indiana, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 6 Northwestern vs. 11-14 winner, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Friday

No. 1 Purdue vs. Michigan-Illinois winner, noon, ESPN

No. 4 Minnesota vs. 5-12/13 winner, 2:30 p.m., ESPN

No. 2 Wisconsin vs. 7-10 winner, 6:30 p.m., BTN

No. 3 Maryland vs. 6-11/14 winner, BTN

Saturday

Semifinals, 1 and 3:30 p.m., CBS

Sunday

Championship, 3 p.m., CBS