INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 12: Head coach Tom Izzo of the Michigan State Spartans looks on against the Penn State Nittany Lions during the semifinals of the 2011 Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 12, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Every March, a critical existential question must be asked - how far ahead do I move Michigan State in the bracket? This question goes to the core of a person's philosophy as a fan. If you have MSU going down to UCLA this year you'd have a good basis for this, but you run the risk of being labeled as a "downer" - rooting for Michigan State is fun, and what fun is it to have a bracket that has your favorite team losing in its first game?
On the opposite end of the fan spectrum, if you have MSU winning the NCAA title this year...well, there's no logical explanation for that. While it's fun to have faith in State, if and when they go out (and it looks more like "when" this year than in previous years) your bracket is almost certain to be shot, which can cast a pall on the rest of the tournament.
I find myself struggling with this conundrum every year. I want Michigan State to win it all, but almost every year I see a team (Kansas last year, Florida or BYU this year) that I can't see Michigan State beating more than three times out of ten. It's also a defense mechanism for me to hold the Spartans back. I feel like moving them farther ahead than their seed indicates will reverse jinx the team, they'll lose by 20 in their first game, and IT'S ALL MY FAULT. Sorry guys, I knew I shouldn't have picked you to beat Kentucky and Duke this year (unless it's 2005, which can it be 2005 again?).
But as a Michigan State fan, you have to have faith in Tom Izzo. Besides even years between 2002 and 2006, every year Izzo manages to pull something extra out of the Spartans. The press knows it, MSU's opponents know it, we know it. So where to put MSU in the bracket?
I read an interview a couple years back on ESPN.com asking the person who won their bracket challenge for tips. There were a few broad ones, but only one that was specific - pick MSU one game farther than you think they'll go. I think this is good advice - it doesn't completely blow out your bracket if MSU loses early, but gives you a reason to be completely invested in the tournament for at least a game or two.
As for how far I'm picking the Spartans this year? I have them going out in the Sweet Sixteen. I think there's a decent chance they'll beat UCLA, and little chance they'll beat Florida; as a result I have them getting past the Gators according to my rule. The rule would've served me well last year but still would've kept me short of winning my pool, because seriously Butler?
That's my philosophy. What are some of yours?