East Lansing — Playing close to home is an advantage not many teams get in the NCAA Tournament.
But with first- and second-round games scheduled this season for Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, there was plenty of debate during the past week over whether Michigan State or Michigan would end up getting a spot.
When the field was announced on Sunday night, Michigan State got a coveted spot close to home while Michigan will play its first game in Wichita, Kan.
NCAA committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen said the bracketing procedures were followed, and the fact that Xavier and Cincinnati — both teams were seeded higher overall than Michigan State and Michigan — were almost equal distance between Detroit and Nashville made it possible to move both to Nashville and open a spot in Detroit for Michigan State.
“We had a discussion as a committee and those sites were very close to each other, really pretty much the same distance from each other, just a few miles,” Rasmussen said. “So, we went by the seeding principles where the better-seeded team on each line got the geographic preference and that’s the way it worked out.”
Cassius Winston and Miles Bridges talk about opening the NCAA Tournament at Little Caesars Arena and other topics. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Purdue, which is the 2-seed in the East and was seeded No. 7 overall, is also playing in Detroit.
Michigan State was seeded No. 9 overall while Michigan was seeded No. 11. That allowed the Spartans to grab the available spot in Detroit.
This will be the second time Michigan State has played at Little Caesars Arena this season after beating Oakland on Dec. 16.
“Man, it’s a great feeling for us because we’re going to have the home crowd on our side,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “People are going to be close to home, there’s going to be a lot of families. But we’re just blessed to make the tournament.”
Michigan State has a history of doing well in the NCAA Tournament when playing close to home. Both the Spartans and Wolverines won first- and second-round games at The Palace in 2013 that sparked Michigan’s Final Four run. In 2000, Michigan State rallied to beat Syracuse and Iowa State in 2000 in the Midwest Regional before eventually winning the national championship.
“Fun. Fun, that’s what flashes in my mind,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said of his memories of playing at The Palace. “We all forget about, we were 14-down to, I think it was Syracuse, 17 or 15-down to Iowa State, and yet we never, ever talk about that, you know.
“So, it just makes me realize that I think sometimes you earn the right to be there. There’s no doubt if we weren’t in The Palace, I’m not sure it would’ve been the same outcome.”