Coming up short in the Big Ten tournament meant the Michigan State Spartans basketball team needed an at large bid to secure their invitation to a 20th straight NCAA tournament.
At 19-14 the Spartans would tie the most losses ever for an at large team, until Vanderbilt with 15 was announced into the tournament minutes later. Regardless of record the season is new the Spartans enter the tournament as a nine seed facing off against Miami of Florida in the first round. But did the Spartans deserve the bid?
The Spartans did something to start the year many teams would stray away from, playing tough out of conference road games. That led to the Spartans holding the 10th best strength of schedule at the end of the season. They also finished the season ranked 51st in RPI, metric used to access the strength of a team, going 6-9 against teams ahead of them in the top 50.
The issue for Michigan State was they lacked the signature win for their resume. The Spartans fell on a last second shot to Arizona, who received a two seed, and were handled easily by Kentucky who also received a two seed. Beating either of those teams could have given MSU a more favorable bid but those weren’t the only top seeds they faced. The Spartans would also lose away from home against three seed Baylor and two seed Duke meaning a lot of the losses were against strong caliber teams.
Backlash against Michigan State came from fans looking solely at the 14 losses, but in reality the only significantly poor loss came at home to Northeastern. You would be hard pressed to find a team higher than a five seed that does not have at least one poor loss so this really shouldn’t have been something working too much against the Spartans.
While the Big Ten was thought to have a down year, they still fielded seven teams into the tournament. The Spartans had wins over four of the other six teams meaning in conference against tournament quality teams MSU was able to get the job done.
The other factor working against them was the slide MSU had at the end of the season losing three out of four games. Taking into consideration none of those games were losses by more than five points the Spartans weren’t falling quite as fast as some thought.
While streaky this season, MSU lacked a huge signature win to put on their resume. But with only one extremely bad loss, and losses coming away from home to top teams in the country, the Spartans deserved to go dancing. And before writing them off a first weekend loser, this team is similar to the bubble Syracuse team that caught fire on the way to the final four as an elite program in down year last season.