Sunday morning, most Michigan State Spartans fans woke up still with images of Miles Bridges hitting a game-winner dancing in their head. Unfortunately, good vibes didn’t last long into the afternoon.
The NCAA Tournament selection committee went through the process of seeding the top 16 teams. Michigan State wasn’t included in the top seed teams, a mild surprise considering all that happened Saturday. But the real shocker came after the two seeds were listed and again the Spartans were left out. Finally, MSU was listed as a three-seed, ending up playing in Atlanta in the South Region with top ranked Virginia.
So, despite entering the weekend ranked No. 4 in the AP Poll, beating the No. 3 team and seeing losses from both the No. 1 and 2 ranked teams, MSU falls in as the 11th best team in the country. Sure.
After the bracket was released, committee chair Bruce Rasmussen explained why Virginia (23-2), Villanova (23-2), Purdue (23-4), and Xavier (23-3) deserved No. 1 seeds. However, the explanation does little to explain MSU (24-3).
“We initially felt Villanova was the overall top seed, but we flipped that Thursday morning after the Wildcats lost to St. John’s at home and Virginia won at Florida State. Despite UVA’s loss Saturday, we felt that based on their 13 wins in the first two quadrants, they deserved to remain on top. Villanova bounced back with a good win Saturday, so we kept them second. Purdue had two tough losses to quality teams, while Xavier picked up two good road wins to solidify the fourth No. 1 seed and ultimately leap Purdue on the seed list.”
So, just to be clear, despite Purdue’s two losses against “quality teams,” Villanova’s loss to unranked St. John’s (before a “good win” at home against unranked Butler), and Virginia’s home loss to unranked Virginia Tech, they are all deserving of a top-seed. But Michigan State, which has three losses all against ranked teams, isn’t even deserving of a two-seed.
Every year, the selection committee tends to pick one statistic it values above all else. At first blush, it would seem that it’s RPI this year. Virginia has the best RPI, followed by Xavier and Villanova. But Purdue doesn’t pop until No. 12 in RPI, so there goes that.
Maybe, instead, it’s BPI or Ken Pom efficiency margin where Virginia, Villanova and Purdue all take up the top three spots? Nope, both of those rankings see MSU at No. 6, well ahead of Xavier at No. 13 in both.
The biggest knock on the Spartans thus far has been their inability to blow teams out and the poor strength of schedule. And both criticisms are fair, if looking only at the last month or so. But wins over both North Carolina by 18 points in Portland, Oregon, and a home win over Purdue shouldn’t be ignored. Nor should an 18 point win over a healthy Notre Dame team, which is now looked at as almost a bad win because of what has happened to the Irish.
Whatever, MSU isn’t a top-seed, even those who disagree have to acknowledge the argument against the Spartans. But the two seeds – Duke, Auburn, Cincinnati, and Kansas – are a different story entirely. Duke Auburn and Kansas all have at least three losses, and all have at least three losses against currently unranked teams. In both the BPI and KenPom rankings Michigan State falls square behind two and ahead of two of those teams. But oh that darn strength of schedule, except Cincinnati has a worse SOS, but ya’ know.
Rasmussen left the committee an out, saying a lot could change between now and March 11 when the bracket officially comes out. But one thing is clear, the Spartans have something to prove if they want to climb into one of the top eight spots. Unfortunately, simply winning doesn’t seem to be enough.
Here’s to March.