Michigan State is on the bubble for the 2021 NCAA Tournament — a rare spot for the Big Ten powerhouse.
The Spartans have made 22 straight tournament appearances under Tom Izzo. Michigan State’s last miss was in 1996-97 in Izzo’s second season. Michigan State (14-10) started the 2020-21 season with six straight victories, but they lost four of their first six Big Ten games before having three games postponed because of COVID-19.
The Spartans, however, are making a run just in time for March. Will that be enough to make the Big Dance?
Can Michigan State make the NCAA Tournament?
Michigan State improved its standing with a 64-58 victory against Indiana on Tuesday.
Michigan State and the Big Ten tournament
The Spartans are in ninth place in the Big Ten, meaning they would have to win four games to earn the conference’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State won the last Big Ten tournament in 2019 and has the most conference tournament championships with six.
The Spartans can boost their tournament case with a rare double-header with their biggest rival starting Thursday.
Michigan State plays at No. 2 Michigan on Thursday, and the in-state rivals will play a second game Sunday in East Lansing. The Wolverines would clinch the regular-season championship with a win in either game, so the Spartans have a chance to play spoiler and bolster their tournament case in the next five days.
Michigan State has won four of the last five meetings in the series. The teams could play again in the Big Ten tournament, too.
Strength of victory
Michigan State is 3-2 against top 10 teams this season, and that includes back-to-back wins against Illinois and Ohio State. An early-season victory against Duke – which also is in the rare position of being on the tournament bubble – could come into play with the selection committee, too.
The Spartans are 2-7 on the road in Big Ten play this season, with the lone wins coming against Indiana and Nebraska. That puts a little more importance on the road game at Michigan this Thursday.
KenPom, RPI, SOS and Quadrants
How Michigan State makes March Madness
Izzo’s reputation as a coach who gets the most out of his teams in March helps. The Spartans have won four of their last five games, and that has pushed them back into the NCAA tournament discussion.
A sweep against the Wolverines would give Michigan State a .500 record in Big Ten play and would make the Spartans a virtual lock to get in the NCAA tournament.
A split against Michigan and one win in the Big Ten tournament – likely against Rutgers or Maryland – also would be enough to get Michigan State off the bubble.
If the Wolverines sweep Michigan State, however, that road becomes much longer. These next two games might be just as important as the Big Ten tournament.