EAST LANSING, Mich. — The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee probably doesn’t get as much credit as it should for creating storylines.
Maybe it’s coincidental. Maybe the committee knows exactly what it’s doing when it drums up drama. Either way, we get the extra entertainment.
In the case of Michigan State’s draw, which sees it facing eighth seed Miami (Fla.) in the first round, we’ve got so many storylines that it’s not even clear where to begin. Let’s run down the list of some things to know and to watch.
1. Make it 20 in a row
On Sunday, Michigan State became the fifth Division I program to head to 20 consecutive NCAA Tournaments, joining Kansas (28), North Carolina (27), Arizona (25) and Duke (22). Spartans coach Tom Izzo became only the fourth coach to lead one program to 20 straight. That accomplishment shouldn’t be taken lightly. MSU has not always been spectacular, but the program has always found a way to put things together regardless of how the season starts.
2. Can you call it a homecoming?
You might not remember this. Many don’t. But in 1986, Izzo left Michigan State to take a job at Tulsa. Seven weeks later, he found himself back at MSU. Golden Hurricane coach J.D. Barnett was not thrilled. Now Izzo will head back to the place where he had a brief stay. He’ll face the Hurricanes in the land of the Golden Hurricane … where he once faced a tornado.
“I’m sure I’ll remember maybe one restaurant,” he said, “if it’s still there.”
3. The draw connects two coaches with a history
Izzo doesn’t have a whole lot of accomplishments still to check off his list. He’s won the Big Ten. He’s won the Big Ten Tournament. He’s won a national championship. He’s won multiple coach of the year awards. BUT — and maybe this isn’t something that matters to him — he has not beaten Miami coach Jim Larrañaga. The 67-year-old beat him with George Mason in the 2006 NCAA Tournament and with the Hurricanes in 2012. Will the third time be the charm for Izzo?
4. A potentially fiery second-round matchup awaits
Under the coaching of Izzo and Bill Self, respectively, Michigan State and Kansas have met five times, with the Spartans winning three. The lone postseason meeting came in the 2009 Sweet 16 when MSU won 67-62. But this potential meeting would be more about Josh Jackson, the Detroit native who spurned Michigan State for Kansas. Adding his services would have made the Spartans’ freshman class even more prolific, and fans haven’t forgotten.
5. This team has some experience
It’s been only two years since Michigan State played in the Final Four, but the roster looks wholly different. Marvin Clark, Matt Costello, Branden Dawson, Bryn Forbes, Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine have all departed. Gavin Schilling is out with a knee injury. Freshmen make this team go, but it still relies on two players who helped make that deep run happen: Tum Tum Nairn and Alvin Ellis III. Those two know what these games mean, and they’ll be relaying their experiences to the youngsters.
“I’ve just got to keep stressing to them that it’s one-and-done time,” Ellis said. “We’ve got to have that same mentality that we had going into the Big Ten Tournament. The first game could be our last game, and we don’t want that to happen.”