The NCAA Tournament was far from a lock for the Michigan State Spartans women’s basketball team. A second-round loss in the Big Ten Tournament to conference champion Maryland put the Spartans firmly on the bubble.
However, Suzy Merchant’s group did enough to make their way into the NCAA Tournament, which kicks off for MSU Saturday afternoon. The Spartans earned a #9 seed in the Chicago region. They will start tournament play even closer to home, playing the first-round game in South Bend, Indiana against the Central Michigan Chippewas.
A short trip and well-traveled fan base may make the difference for Michigan State, who has been night-and-day at home compared to the road. In East Lansing, MSU is 15-1 on the season, while only 3-8 on the road. South Bend has never felt like home for the Green and White, but a short trip may be good enough for a first-round win.
The first-round matchup may end up looking like a shootout. The Spartans have relied on their offense all season long, going 18-4 on the year when scoring at least 70 points. Shay Colley, a first-team All-B1G player, has averaged 14.7 points on the season and will need to be playing at her best to keep the Spartans’ season alive.
CMU is built to play a similar game. Reyna Frost and Presley Hudson are both averaging more than 20 points a game, with both shooting 41.5 percent from three. Additionally, Hudson broke the Chippewas’ career assist record, previously held by Merchant when she played for CMU from 188-91.
If the Spartans can survive the interstate-matchup, they will have a much bigger test almost certainly awaiting. They will likely play top-seeded Notre Dame in South Bend. The Fighting Irish start their tournament against Bethune-Cookman. The winner of that game will advance to the Sweet Sixteen in Chicago.