The Bracket Matrix, an excellent site that tabulated the NCAA Tournament seeding projections across many, many sites, currently has the Spartans currently as the last 4 seed. While definitely disappointing given how well Michigan State was doing a month ago, and definitely trending downward over the past couple days, there's still time for the Spartans to improve their seed.
STEP 1 - OPTIMAL THINGS TO HAPPEN IN THE BIG TEN TOURNAMENT
- Iowa beats Northwestern in the 6-11 game. This gives Michigan State a chance at another top-50 RPI win (Iowa is currently #46). The Spartans beat Iowa, since this is the "Best Case" scenario, and not "the reflection of our pessimistic thoughts onto reality".
- MSU then faces Wisconsin in the semis, and beat the Badgers as well. Wisconsin is a top-10 team in the RPI at this point. Facing Minnesota here would also be a chance for another good win, as the Gophers would most likely be a top-50 RPI team if they beat Penn State and the Badgers to get to the semifinals.
- Michigan State then faces Michigan in the finals. Just before game day though, Nik Stauskas announces that he's leaving basketball forever to form a dub step duo with Justin Bieber called "Straight Outta Ontario". Michigan loses by 50, and Michigan State claims the Big Ten title.
- If all of these things happen, and everything else plays out about as normally as college basketball plays out, MSU would get a three seed. Just my guess. However, if teams ahead of MSU lose...
STEP 2 - OPTIMAL THINGS TO HAPPEN ELSEWHERE
- UNC wins the ACC title. As I said, Michigan State's the last #4 seed. The top #5 seed is...the Tarheels. I want no part of UNC, especially in a game to get to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Doug McDermott, suffering from gigantism-related effects due to a nerve tonic addiction, is ruled out for the rest of Creighton's season. The Bluejays lose their first Big East tournament game, and fall behind MSU.
- The Cincinnati Bearcats OD on Skyline chili, and Louisville receives a bad batch of Papa John's pizza. Both fall in their first round American Athletic Conference games, and thus are ranked below the Spartans on the S-Curve.
- Oklahoma and Texas meet in the Big 12 tournament finals, with Iowa State losing to Kansas State in the 4-5 game. This not only would bump the Cyclones below MSU in the S-Curve if the Spartans won all their games, but would boost two of MSU's good wins earlier in the season.
- Kentucky wins the SEC championship, providing another small boost to MSU's resume.
- Lastly, while it'd be nice if Syracuse, Duke, and Virginia all went out early in the ACC tournament, I doubt the Spartans surpass any of those teams, especially Syracuse and Duke. I think there's just too much ground to make up.
So if all this happens (spoiler alert: NOPE), where would MSU end up? A good case study is the 2011 Connecticut Huskies. Like this year's Spartans, the Huskies lost four of their last six regular season games. 2011 UConn ended the regular season at 21-9, the 2014 Spartans have a bit better record at 23-8. However, the Huskies won five straight games in the Big East tournament, with those final three wins coming against all top-15 KenPom teams at the time (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville). If the Spartans were to face Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan on the path to a title, that would mean the Spartans would have beaten three of the top 18 in KenPom to cut down the nets in Indy.
After the 2011 Big East tournament, UConn ended up as a three seed, and went on to win the NCAA title that season. Given 2011 UConn's seeding, I think the best case scenario for Michigan State is a three seed. The Spartans dug themselves too much of a hole in February, and while a three seed wouldn't be ideal, if it comes against the right opponents (my hope: #1 Villanova, #2 Syracuse), the biggest hurdle to clear will be the same one affecting the Spartans as it has been all season -- themselves.