John Niyo, Matt Charboneau and James Hawkins talk Big Ten title game and NCAA bids for Michigan State, Michigan. The Detroit News
Chicago — For the third time in the last four seasons, Michigan State landed a high seed in the NCAA Tournament, earning a 2-seed in the East Region.
The Spartans (28-6) will play No. 15 seed Bradley in the first round on 2:45 p.m. Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. It’s the 22nd straight NCAA Tournament appearance for Michigan State, the third-longest active streak in the nation behind Kansas (30) and Duke (24).
But after capturing a share of the Big Ten regular-season title last week and winning the Big Ten tournament championship by beating Michigan for the third time on Sunday at the United Center, coach Tom Izzo is starting to wonder why the Spartans aren't getting what he thinks they deserve from the tournament committee.
“I have (been honest) and for a couple years now, including ’16, I don’t think we did,” Izzo said after the 65-60 victory over Michigan locked up a conference-best sixth tournament championship. “But today, I don’t care. The problem is, what I’m upset about, is I just don’t think they looked at the 20-game schedule. We played more than any other conference.
“But wherever they want me to play. It hasn’t been easy all year and they want me to play outside, I’ll play outside. If they want me to play … doesn’t matter to me anymore. I’m not gonna worry about it but I am gonna worry about it a little bit for the conference. This supposed to be the toughest conference in the country. Everybody’s saying it. But it is what it is.”
In 2016, Michigan State beat Purdue for the conference tournament title and expected to hear it was a No. 1 seed. Instead, the Spartans drew a 2-seed and lost to No. 15 Middle Tennessee State. Last season, Michigan State landed in Detroit, but a 3-seed after a 29-4 regular season with another conference title wasn’t enough for a top seed. In the second round, the Spartans were ousted by Syracuse.
Entering Sunday’s championship game, the seventh time Michigan State has gone that far, the Spartans had more Quad 1 wins (12) than any team in the nation, and heard murmuring of a possible 1 seed.
Instead, the outcome merely moved Michigan State up from the No. 7 overall seed to No. 6 and the committee placed the Spartans in the East based on geography. The reward: being in the same region as No. 1 overall seed Duke.
"Michigan State was one of about six or seven teams that started off the week in our minds as a collective committee that we thought could eventually get to the 1 line," committee chairman Bernard Muir said. "At the end of the day, as those tournaments unfolded, we thought Gonzaga deserved to stay on the 1 line.
"With regards to assigning teams to their regions, we try to assign teams to their most natural and closest region possible and in the case of Michigan State when their time came up on the seed list after surpassing Kentucky, we decided to put them in their closest region which would have been Washington D.C. for the regional, so that’s why they were assigned there. We don’t look at matchups necessarily. It’s more trying to assign teams to their natural and closest region."
Michigan, which lost three times to Michigan State, is the 2-seed in the West where Gonzaga is the No. 1 seed, a spot some thought it might lose after dropping the West Coast Conference championship game to Saint Mary’s.
Tom Izzo talks about Michigan State's win in the Big Ten tournament and its seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
It made it seem the Big Ten tournament championship game mattered little to the committee.
“Noooo,” Izzo said when asked if the game mattered. “That’s what’s the problem. Of course not. It’s (the bracket is) already done. We’ve been saying that for years. So I don’t think they do (consider it). I’m sure the committee will say they do, but like I said, I’m not upset about that; I’m used to it. I just think the conference deserves some things because this was the toughest conference, top to bottom, in the country and we played the most conference games in the country.”
As Izzo predicted, Muir said every game matters.
"What I will say is every game across an entire season matters," said Muir, who added that 12 different brackets existed on Sunday morning. "So I think sometimes fans tend to fixate on the last few games of a conference tournament and we are trying to make sure we look at the full body of work, which you’ve heard the committee speak before. And Michigan State did climb over Kentucky into the 6-seed line. But the committee didn’t feel comfortable moving them above Tennessee, who was no. 5 based on the full season’s results."
Michigan State likely will spend little time worrying about seeds. They’ll be back in East Lansing on Monday and then leave for Des Moines on Tuesday to take part in open practices and media sessions on Wednesday before playing on Thursday. If the Spartans win, they’ll advance to play the winner of the matchup between No. 7 Louisville and No. 10 Minnesota.
Up first, though, is Bradley (20-14), the champion of the Missouri Valley Conference which is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 13 years.
“We’re very confident,” coach Brian Wardle told the Chicago Tribune earlier on Sunday. “Whoever we play, wherever we play, we’re going to prepare the same way we’ve done all year and go in there confidently. We feel on a neutral floor we’re as good as anybody when we’re clicking and staying together.”
Michigan State is 4-0 all-time against Bradley, winning three in a row from 2006-08.
Getting past Bradley will be the first step in helping Michigan State get over a bit of an NCAA Tournament slump. Despite two conference championships in a row, Michigan State’s last three seasons have been clouded by the fact it hasn’t managed to get out of the first weekend of the Tournament.
The second-seeded Spartans fell to Middle Tennessee State in the first round in 2016 before going out in the second round in 2017 against Kansas and in 2018 with a loss to Syracuse.
Those thoughts will be with the Spartans, but on Sunday night, as they hoisted another trophy, the confidence was brimming.
““I think we just put ourselves in a really good situation where we can make a good run in the tournament,” sophomore Xavier Tillman said. “Last year we got beat by Syracuse in the second round… This year we just don’t have those expectations, so now there’s really no corrections. We’re just going in, playing as hard as we can and that’s all we worry about.”
No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 15 Bradley
When: 2:45 p.m. Thursday
Where: Wells Fargo Arena, Des Moines, Iowa
TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 28-6, Bradley 20-14
Next up: Winner faces winner between No. 7 Louisville and No. 10 Minnesota