Even though Michigan State is shy of the standard 20-win golden ticket entering Big Ten Tournament play, the Spartans have a decent shot at making the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
They had the opportunity to show out early and compile critical wins to boost them up the charts. But, as college basketball’s most anticipated event inches closer, it’s a scramble for the 36 schools not automatically in the field.
The real question for the Spartans is, where will they fall, if at all? The Sporting News breaks down Michigan State’s chances of making the tourney.
Michigan State and the Big Ten Tournament
Michigan State earned a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and was slotted as the No. 4 seed after a series of dominoes tipped the right way last weekend.
Last year, the Spartans had a fire lit beneath them, stretching their newfound luck to the semifinals before losing by five to the eventual runner-up Purdue.
They have kept the fire burning throughout the 2022-23 season and are coming into Chicago with a lot of heat, despite a tough schedule. They’re playing for their NCAA lives, especially Malik Hall and Joey Hauser, who are hungry to finish their fifth years strong.
Head coach Tom Izzo jokingly encouraged chants from fans calling for Hall and senior Tyson Walker to take just “one more year,” following the Spartans’ regular-season finale win over Ohio State on March 4.
Izzo encourages the crowd to chant “one more year” for Malik Hall and Tyson Walker pic.twitter.com/ASkstDxSRy
— Kelly (@_kelly_branigan) March 4, 2023
Michigan State’s strengths
Michigan State is 6-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents this season. The opening month of MSU’s schedule was daunting, with seven back-to-back games against some of the sport’s blue bloods: Gonzaga, Kentucky, Villanova.
Thanks in large part to that schedule, the Spartans stumbled to a 5-4 start and haven’t been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since late November.
Their guard play is what kept them alive in the jaws of the lions. Walker, sophomore Jaden Akins and junior A.J. Hoggard, while all still deemed works in progress, have been invaluable on both ends of the ball.
The Spartans have been without a definitive leader since the departure of Cassius Winston after the 2020 season. Hoggard has proved he has what it takes to step up, and with him at the one, the Spartans have kept their opponents at an average of 67.4 points per game.
On the other side of the ball, the Spartans are third in the country in percentage of 3-pointers made with a 40.1% rate. If anything, they’re strongest beyond the arc, with four players averaging 40-45% and two others averaging 30-35%.
Squad is 3rd in the country in three point FG% 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/lvpVtsBAHV
— Michigan State Men’s Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) March 5, 2023
Michigan State’s weaknesses
Having experience at the top of the roster can only do so much when a good majority of said stars are sidelined by injury. With Hall and Akins suffering early this season with foot injuries, they were at a shortened rotation for a matter of weeks.
They also struggle with offensive rebounds and defending bigs.
One example is Purdue’s Zach Edey, who is 7-foot-4 and an absolute menace in the paint. His presence played a significant part in MSU dropping both meetings against the Boilermakers this season. Not only did the Sporting News Player of the Year clock 30-plus points in both games, but he ended his junior season with a career-high 68 blocks. His wingspan is unmatched when it comes to pairing him off, MSU doesn’t have much seasoned veteran talent in that area of the court.
Michigan State’s rankings
Will Michigan State make the NCAA Tournament?
Bill Bender’s latest Sporting News projection has the Spartans in as a No. 7 seed while acknowledging that seeding among Big Ten teams is “fluid” depending on how the conference tournament shakes out.
ESPN has MSU as a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Joe Lunardi’s bracketology shows them as a No. 6 seed in the Midwest region, facing either Mississippi State or Utah State first.
It ultimately depends on their outcome this week in Chicago.