The Big Ten championship is locked up, with just an outright title left for Michigan State to clinch with the regular-season finale at Wisconsin on Sunday.
So, not surprisingly, we continue to turn plenty of our attention to where the Spartans might be seeded in the NCAA Tournament in this week’s mailbag.
We also take a quick peek at what next season might look like, while wondering about whether off-court issues affect players deciding whether to leave early for the NBA.
■ Question. If MSU finishes 31-3 before the tourney, would they really be denied a 1-seed over a 6 or 7-loss Kansas? Their losses are against sure-lock higher-seeded tourney teams. — @LuGWit
■ Answer. Well, it comes down to what the committee is deciding to look at. If it follows the team sheets closely, as it appeared to do with its early seedings released a couple of weeks ago that had the Spartans at No. 11 overall, then there is absolutely a scenario where Michigan State would not be a No. 1 seed. Those team sheets are ranked by putting RPI rankings in quadrants, and right now MSU is still 3-3 in Quadrant 1 games without much chance to add to that. The most the Spartans could add to that through the Big Ten tournament would be two games — maybe. So, that’s not much of a chance to bolster the resume.
Now, if the committee allows other metrics — Kenpom.com for one, that ranks MSU No. 4 right now — as well as the eye test, then yes, Michigan State would clearly be a No. 1 if it ran the table. And let’s not just put this as MSU vs. Kansas. There’s a lot of teams in that mix. I, for one, have not been buying Kansas at any point this season. But, I’m not on the committee and, to this point, the committee has shown in its release of seedings that it is buying Kansas. So, the answer is — we’ll see. Hard to predict right now.
■ Q. This year’s team looks bound for a serious run at a title. What about next year without Bridges and Jackson Jr.? Back to the guards doing it all? — @LonestarV
■ A. I think the Spartans will absolutely be a more guard-oriented team, but assuming Nick Ward is still there, then that will always be one of the No. 1 options offensively. So, it’s not going to change significantly. We’ll also have to keep an eye on how much progress Xavier Tillman makes in the off-season in terms of his offense, and what sort of role incoming freshman Marcus Bingham will have.
That said, the guards will be the strength of this team next season. So, while there might not be the size that exists right now, there will be plenty of depth around the perimeter and with athletic wings who can attack the basket.
■ Q. What kind of impact do you see Xavier Tillman having in this year’s NCAA and also next season? — @heyzimdad
■ A. As for this year, I’d see Tillman continuing his current role, which is a guy who likely won’t get regular minutes in the rotation, but will still be a guy that can come in and give a spark defensively when others are struggling or in foul trouble. I do believe he can make a big jump offensively next year to the point he and Ward are basically sharing the minutes at the center position. He might not have the touch around the rim that Ward does, but he’s strong enough and athletic enough to be a scoring option on the block.
■ Q. What are Tum’s plans post basketball? — @govtcheez
■ A. I know he’d like to keep playing. Where that is, I’m not real sure. He did say he would be interested in coaching someday and, actually, he told us he wants to be the head coach at Michigan State. Of course, that wouldn’t be happening right away, but Tom Izzo would welcome Nairn with open arms if he wanted to begin his career at MSU as a graduate assistant. Another idea that Izzo brought up was Nairn as a motivational speaker. I’ll say this, whatever he does, Nairn will go after it as hard as anyone.
■ Q. Will Izzo and the program suffer the same fate as Rick Pitino and Louisville? — @MatthewSchabath
■ A. Meaning as it relates to the FBI investigation, or just in general? Since this isn’t really a discussion I’ll kind of go toward both. As for the FBI investigation, who knows? My hunch is that Michigan State would not get wrapped up in what’s going on, but I do not have any concrete evidence on what the FBI is working on. As for some sort of fallout based on all the off-court stuff recently, I do not believe he would suffer the same fate. Based on everything we know right now, nothing has shown that he has done anything that violated any policy or rule. Same for Mark Dantonio.
■ Q. Do you see the questions surrounding Izzo and the program (as questionable as they may be) pushing players to go pro earlier than they might otherwise? — @DanHogan95
■ A. No. The two guys that are likely to leave early (Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr.) were gonna do so regardless. And if anyone else leaves (I wouldn’t 100 percent rule out Ward), it would be all about the fact they believe they belong in the NBA.
■ Q. I’m sure you’ll get a few of these, but why is it that it takes a fan (@gHostRCMB) with knowledge of the law to point out huge holes in the OTL hit piece, when it is 98% known public record? Couldn’t this have been done by paid journalists? If so why hasn’t it, in your opinion? — @LarryK86929164
■ A. Because it’s not my job to pick apart another outlet’s report. I’ll let ESPN stand on its own merit, but it’s not up to me to tell you they’re right or wrong. I can only do my job the best I can, and that doesn’t mean telling you whether someone else is or isn’t. I’ve said before that, personally, I have questions about parts of the original OTL report, and I would not have published (and did not publish) a player’s name based on what is known. However, I’m doing my best to cover MSU the best I can without policing other outlets.