EAST LANSING, Mich. — Take a breath, Michigan State fans. You’re in.
The bracket has been released, and for a 20th consecutive season the Spartans will play in the NCAA Tournament, all under coach Tom Izzo. They’ll take on Miami (Fla.) on Friday at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. As a No. 9 seed, this affords the Spartans the chance to play two particularly significant games.
Izzo will face off against Miami coach Jim Larrañaga, who coached George Mason to a Final Four in 2006. The Patriots, who were a No. 11 seed, upset MSU in the first round that year in Dayton.
If the Spartans win their opener, they’ll likely face No. 1 Kansas in the second round. Jayhawks star Josh Jackson, who averages 16.4 points and 7.2 rebounds, hails from Detroit and nearly committed to Michigan State.
With such a strong contingent of No. 1 and 2 seeds, the difference between getting a 9 or 10 seed isn’t huge. Any second-round game will be a doozy. Michigan State can be happy with its draw, particularly the respect it garnered by getting seeded as high as it did.
The bracket shows how much the selection committee valued strength of schedule. At 19-14, Michigan State safely got in with the 10th-toughest schedule in the nation. Heck, Vanderbilt got a No. 9 seed despite a 19-15 record. Its SOS? Best in the nation.
Additionally, Michigan State can thank some of its conference rivals. Michigan catapulted to No. 25 in the RPI behind a run to the Big Ten Tournament title, giving the Spartans a valuable win. And Minnesota, behind a late-season flurry, sits at No. 20. Michigan State beat the Golden Gophers twice.
Despite getting seeded higher than most expected, no run will be easy. If Michigan State manages to get by Larrañaga, that sets up a meeting with Kansas.
So let’s look at Miami. Like the Spartans, the Hurricanes have lost three of their last four games. However, Miami lost to three NCAA Tournament teams: Virginia Tech, Florida State and North Carolina.
Miami brings a stingy defense to the floor, ranking second in the ACC in scoring defense. On the offensive end, the Hurricanes struggle, often relying on one-on-one drives rather than ball movement.
If Michigan State can put the ball in the basket, it will give itself a shot. But if its 63-58 loss to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament serves as any indication, that’s not a given.