Couch: What Michigan State’s NCAA tournament seed should be and how far MSU can climb

Couch: What Michigan State\'s NCAA tournament seed should be and how far MSU can climb
Michigan State’s win over Purdue a reminder of team’s wealth of talent
nMichigan State fans watching the NCAA selection committee reveal of its top 16 on Sunday were probably not very happy at the first commercial break and the Spartans were not among the top eight teams. In fact, the committee ranked them only 11th, seeding them third in the East Regional.  MSU fans might be happier, but confused, Monday to see the Spartans are No. 1 in the coaches poll and No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll. 

You do see disparities like this from time to time, although less so a month from now. The primary reason for them is that the committee and poll voters have different standards.

Poll voters slot teams. You lose, you drop. Just how far depends on the opponent and the margin of defeat. The No. 5 team can lose to the No. 1 team, as it should if the rankings are correct, and the No. 5 team will still drop. Where you start matters, although poll voters have usually caught up on teams they missed in the beginning by now. 

Game of the week: No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan, Sunday. Who can forget the first meeting between these border foes way back in December in Columbus? Back then, the Buckeyes were down by 20 points just before halftime and mounted a furious rally to topple the Wolverines, 71-62. Now, these fierce rivals meet again. And it’s a biggie. The Buckeyes have a one game lead in the Big Ten over Purdue and Michigan State. So, OSU (22-5 overall; 13-1 Big Ten) needs to win to maintain its edge. Keep in mind: Ohio State will be coming off a Thursday night game at Penn State, which could be taxing. Will that have any impact on the Buckeyes when they meet the Wolverines?? Michigan (20-7 overall; 9-5 Big Ten) has a strong NCAA tourney resume. But no doubt, a win vs. a highly-ranked Ohio State would augment the Wolverines’ cause.
Michigan State's win over Purdue a reminder of team's wealth of talent
Michigan State’s win over Purdue a reminder of team’s wealth of talent

For No. 2 MSU, recent ball control ‘like Christmas’

Who you are matters too. Poll voters can sometimes be swayed by brand names. Michigan State started No. 2 and has posted a gaudy record.  None of their losses came to bad teams, so they never fell very far. Teams ahead of them started losing and the Spartans have crept back up the polls.

Don’t overlook this game: No. 8 Ohio State at Penn State, Thursday. The Buckeyes have won 12 of their last 13 games. The lone loss? Against Penn State, 82-79, on January 25th, the only Big Ten team to topple Ohio State this season. That first meeting between these teams was epic, as PSU’s Tony Carr banked in a long 3-pointer at the buzzer for the win. Seconds earlier, the Buckeyes’ Keita Bates-Diop hit a big 3-pointer to forge a tie and cap an Ohio State rally. The Buckeyes need this victory in State College to maintain their lead in the Big Ten chase. The Nittany Lions need the win to buff-up an NCAA resume that lacks polish.

The committee does not care who you are and they have no starting point. They are not moving you up and down every day based on the current result. They care about things like strength of schedule, quality wins, quality of losses, and the ability to win away from home. The things that matter to them appear on the NCAA team sheet.  You will see that things like current winning streak are not there.

Rohan Kumar: Wolverines need to find their flow

When the committee looks at Michigan State’s team sheet, here is what they see:

Must win: Nebraska vs. Maryland, Tuesday. The Cornhuskers are one of the hottest teams in the Big Ten, winners of five in a row and seven of eight. The only defeat in that span was a 64-59 loss at Ohio State. The Cornhuskers are in fourth place in the conference with a 10-4 Big Ten mark (19-8 overall), but their lone marquee victory is a 20-point triumph vs. Michigan. Nebraska needs to win out and then probably win at least one Big Ten tourney game if it wants to earn its first NCAA bid since 2014, as the Huskers’ resume leaves a lot to be desired.

Michigan State has played the fewest Q1 opponents of any team in the committee’s top 16. Ohio State and Arizona have each played six. The No. 1 seeds have all played at least eight and have at least as many Q1 wins as the Spartans have Q1 games.  The Spartans also have played the fewest games against teams in the top two quadrants (11). Oklahoma, the most maligned of the selections by the committee, has played 11 games against Q1 alone with six wins, which is part of the reason why they cracked the top 16. MSU has no losses outside the top two tiers, which is not true for Kansas, North Carolina or Ohio State.

For No. 2 MSU, recent ball control 'like Christmas'
For No. 2 MSU, recent ball control ‘like Christmas’

Men’s Basketball Central – Feb. 12

Here are a couple of pieces of trivia for you. No Big Ten team with the Spartans’ winning percentage (.889) or better has ever finished out of the top 5 in the RPI. MSU is currently 14th. Only two Big Ten teams have ever even received at-large bids with worse SOS rankings than Michigan State’s, although both were relatively highly seeded. And obviously, making the tournament is not an issue for the Spartans.

4) Roy Williams’ Tar Heels were the bounce-back kids last week, beating Duke and North Carolina State to extend their win streak to three games. That followed a three-game skid that saw North Carolina lost to Virginia Tech, NC State and Clemson in an eight-day span. The Heels are on the rise again and junior forward Luke Maye, with 74 points in his last three games, is one of the hottest players in the country.

So, what can Michigan State do to improve their resume? Well, the Spartans are in the Big Ten, which is down this year, so not much. They have four games left before the conference tournament, but none of them will be top tier games. Two are currently listed as Q2 games, but Minnesota may drop out of that group. For MSU, the best they can hope for is to get games against Michigan, Ohio State and/or Purdue in the conference tournament to pad the top end of its schedule. As committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen indicated on the show on Sunday, it may be a long climb to the top line of the bracket for the Spartans.

Preview: Gophers vs. Michigan State
Preview: Gophers vs. Michigan State

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Miles Bridges Named Big Ten Player of the Week

Even the selection committee, which came out with their rankings Sunday, had the Spartans as a No. 3 seed after the win. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, of Bracketology fame, has MSU “trending down” after a week where they went 2-0 and beat Purdue, which makes no sense to me. I certainly understand strength of schedule and quality wins. It hurts MSU that they have just two wins (Purdue and North Carolina) against teams that currently would be in the NCAA field. On the other hand, they are 24-3 which should put them higher.

At the end of the day, MSU’s seed is largely irrelevant. Unless they bottom out over the next couple of weeks and into the Big Ten tournament, they’ll play their first- and second-round games at Little Caesars Arena. If they win those two games, they’ll likely have to play elite teams in the regional semifinals and regional finals and at that point, it really doesn’t matter what the seed is. You’re playing great teams at that point so it doesn’t matter if you’re the top seed or No. 3 seed.

So let’s get back to the game itself. Miles Bridges was the headliner as he deserved to be. His 3-pointer won it for MSU and it felt like an exclamation point on the game and more so on what has been an underwhelming season. ESPN commentator Dan Dakich took to Twitter last week and proclaimed Bridges “Has No Game.” You can argue the context of the tweet, but those are three largely damning words. On the broadcast Saturday, Dick Vitale wondered where Bridges was and thought he was being too passive. That changed quickly and perhaps Bridges has rediscovered his dominance at the perfect time.

But what struck me more about the game is what some players did not do. Josh Langford, Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward combined to score 14 points. Ward, as has been the norm, played 11 minutes, and scored six. Going up against Isaac Haas and Matt Haarms, you figured Ward would have to have a big game or at least hold his own. Instead it was forward Gavin Schilling who saw a bulk of the work against Haas, scored seven points, and made the key stop on Haas at the end that led to Bridges game-winner.

Matt McQuaid also stepped up to do exactly what MSU fans have been waiting for him to do. He knocked down three 3-pointers and played very good perimeter defense, helping to limit Purdue to zero made 3-pointers in the second half. Purdue may be the best inside-outside team in the nation, but MSU turned them into an inside team in the second half, which was a major reason why the Spartans got the win.

Lansing State Journal columnist Graham Couch, Detroit Free Press / LSJ MSU beat writer Chris Solari and Free Press columnist Shawn Windsor break down the Spartans' 68-65 win over Purdue at Breslin Center. Graham Couch / Lansing State Journal

The great Michigan State teams have had shared characteristics. Of course they’re led by Izzo. They normally have at least one All-American and another who can play to that level. And they have depth. Lots of it.

Michigan State jumps to No. 2 in AP poll, Michigan falls to No. 22

Izzo loves to roll in fresh players when most games are reaching the first TV timeout. Bridges, Ward, Cassius Winston and Jackson have to be great if MSU is going to go all the way. But players like McQuaid, Schilling and Langford can make huge contributions when they may not be expected.

Michigan State’s Miles Bridges taking over games, winning weekly Big Ten honor

MSU has the team to make a run. There was never any doubt about that. Saturday’s win was a reminder just how good some of the players can be, and just how deep they can be as a group. Any Final Four run requires a little bit of luck and we’ll wait and see if that comes. The best teams take advantage of that luck when it comes — and MSU is good enough to do that.

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