Michigan State Basketball making the NCAA Tournament has become an annual occurrence. In fact, it has happened 19 straight seasons. Tom Izzo’s teams do not often find themselves on the bubble, but that is exactly where this team lies with just five games to go in the regular season.
The Spartans resume currently is enough to get them into the tournament, based on most projections, if it were to start today. They sit at 16-10 overall, and 8-5 in the Big Ten. Their quality wins include Wichita State, Minnesota (twice), Northwestern, and Michigan. Their lone bad loss was a home loss to Northeastern in December without star freshman Miles Bridges.
MSU currently has an RPI of 42 and is 18th in the strength of schedule rankings. These numbers are solid and reflective of a team that has a good NCAA tournament resume. However, due to their record, as well as many losses in the non-conference, MSU still sits on the bubble.
ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has MSU as a number 10 seed in the Midwest region in his latest bracketology. In this scenario they would take on 7 seed Xavier in Indianapolis, with 2 seed Louisville most likely waiting in the second round. This puts them among the last teams in the tournament that do not have to head to Dayton for the play-in game.
CBS Bracketologist Jerry Palm also has the Spartans as a 10 seed, but out West, which would seem to indicate they are on the bottom of that 10 seed line. In this scenario, they would take on SMU in Sacramento, with 2 seed Oregon most likely waiting in the second round.
The good thing for MSU is their remaining schedule present opportunities to strengthen their resume. They still have a game at Purdue, as well as a trip to Maryland and a home game against Wisconsin. All three teams are comfortably in the tournament at this point, and would significantly strengthen MSU’s resume if the Spartans ended up winning any of those games.
Obviously the remaining schedule can also have negatives. The other two games MSU plays are home against Nebraska and away at Illinois. Both of those games need to be wins at this point in the Spartans season. However, if MSU were to drop the all three of the other games, they would probably need to win a Big Ten tournament game to secure a bid.
One thing working against the Spartans is the magic number of 14 losses. In the past 24 years, only seven teams have gotten an at-large bid with that many losses. MSU currently sits at 10. If they lost three more regular season games, and then got eliminated somewhere in the Big Ten tournament, that gets them to 14 losses.
Even if they were to reach the 14 loss number, MSU would be a candidate to break the mold. Four of their 10 losses currently came in the non-conference to Baylor, Arizona, Duke, and Kentucky. Those four teams all rank in the top 13 in the current AP Poll. Baylor and Arizona are both top-ten teams.
No matter how you slice it, MSU still remains on the bubble. While they are in on most projections, they have some work to do. The opportunities are there. The Spartans need to take advantage of them over the next three weeks.