As the last of the First Four games wrap up, the Big Dance quickly approaches. For Michigan State, their first matchup in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament comes against USC on March 17. The No. 7 Spartans and No. 10 Trojans tip off at 12:15 p.m. EST in Columbus Ohio. The game will be broadcast on CBS.
This marks 25 straight appearances in the NCAA Tournament for the Spartans under head coach Tom Izzo. The Hall of Fame coach is the first to earn 25 straight bids. After an up-and-down season, the Spartans finished with a 19-12 record, and the team finished fourth in the Big Ten standings with an 11-8 conference record.
The team is led by seniors Tyson Walker and Joey Hauser as well as junior A.J. Hoggard. Walker shined for Michigan State this season. He consistently scored in bunches, leading the team with 14.6 points per game. Hauser was not too far behind at 14.2 points per game. He provided steady production from all areas of the floor, finishing the season shooting 45.5 percent from beyond the arc. Hoggard got his buckets as well, averaging 12.5 points per game, but he made his mark as the team’s facilitator. He finished the season averaging six assists per game.
The Trojans finished the season with a 22-10 record. They finished second in the PAC-12 with a 14-6 conference record. Like MSU, USC was bounced early in its conference tournament. The Trojans are led by senior guards Boogie Ellis and Drew Peterson. Ellis led the team in points, scoring 18 per game. Peterson led the team in rebounding and assists with 6.2 and 4.4 per game respectively. The Trojans boast the eighth-ranked blocking team in Division One basketball with 5.3 blocks per game.
Michigan State is favored against USC
The Spartans open up as two-point favorites over the Trojans.
USC’s Peterson is dealing with an ailing back injury. He scored just 23 points total over his last three games. If his injury continues to nag him against Michigan State, a heavier workload will be piled onto Ellis’ shoulders.
USC boasts a strong interior defense. The team holds its opponents to 42.4 percent shooting from inside the arc. MSU will have to lean heavily on its strong three-point shooting. The Spartans shot 39.5 percent from three-point range, tied for third-best in the country.
If the Spartans make it past USC, they take on the winner of No. 2 Marquette and No. 15 Vermont.
Other East Region first-round matchups include:
- No. 1 Purdue vs. No. 16 FDU
- No. 3 Kansas State vs. No. 14 Montana State
- No. 4 Tennessee vs. No. 13 Louisiana
- No. 5 Duke vs. No. 12 Oral Roberts
- No. 6 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Providence
- No. 8 Memphis vs. No. 9 FAU
The Spartans’ path through the East Region
Assuming Michigan State defeats USC, the team likely faces No. 2 Marquette in the next round. The Golden Eagles finished the season with a record of 28-6 and ranked sixth in the AP Top 25. Marquette is a tough matchup that the Spartans will not be favored to win, but in a single-game elimination tournament, all it takes is one strong performance for an upset.
Other teams to monitor include No. 5 Duke and No. 6 Kentucky. The three bluebloods did not enjoy the success of seasons gone by, and found themselves as middling seeds in the East Region. A matchup between MSU and either the Blue Devils or Wildcats is sure to draw plenty of eyes. MSU could face Kentucky in the Sweet 16 and Duke in the Elite Eight.
The team the Spartans would have the most trouble with is No. 1 Purdue. The Boilermakers finished the season ranked third in the top 25 with a record of 29-5. The team won the Big Ten Tournament for the first time since 2009 this season. The Spartans lost both of their matchups against the Boilermakers, but one of them came down to the wire. The other was a double-digit loss.
Michigan State needs everything to fall its way to make it out of the East Region. Izzo and his squad have turned in performances that make you think they have a shot to make a deep run. However, they have also posted disappointing losses that would make an early exit far from surprising.
Before the Spartans can even think about looking ahead to a Final Four run, they have to take care of business against USC on Friday.
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(Featured Image Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK)