Michigan State fans and players had to sweat the first NCAA Tournament Selection Show in 24 months a little more than we had hoped. But after waiting for 35 minutes, the Spartans finally saw their name up on the big board.
It is official. The Michigan State Spartans have extended their now second-longest active NCAA Tournament streak at 23 consecutive appearances. But, the news was not all positive. Instead of a low No. 10 seed or high No. 11 seed that most experts expected, the Spartans just slipped into the First Four play-in games.
As a result, the Spartans will face No. 11 seed UCLA late on Thursday night. If the Spartans win, they will earn the right to face No. 6 BYU on Saturday night in historical Hinkle Fieldhouse, the home of the Butler Bulldogs and the place where the final scenes of classic film Hoosiers was filmed.
Following the announcement of the bracket, Spartan players Josh Langford and Aaron Henry, as well as head coach Tom Izzo, met with members of the media via Zoom. They expressed their excitement about being able to keep playing basketball, talked a little about what they have been up to, and Coach Izzo told us how he really felt about MSU’s draw.
Senior captain Josh Langford talked a lot about the opportunity that the team now has.
“At the end of the day that’s all that we can ask for,” Langford said. “We have to take advantage of that opportunity. It’s win or go home now, but we have opportunity and nobody can take that from us.”
Junior caption Aaron Henry echoed these sentiments. He said that he was excited and “Glad to be able to play on Thursday and still have the opportunity to play basketball in March...The streak continues with Coach Izzo. It was a good day. Everybody is fired up and more excited than ever.”
Henry continued, “This is our last run at a memory-making season.” When asked about what MSU is capable of in this year’s NCAA Tournament, Henry said, “We have shown that we can play with anybody, but we haven’t shown the consistency through a longer stretch.”
Henry added, “This is the time when we can’t afford to drop any. But we have played our best basketball when our backs have been against the wall... I think that this will be a good time to write our own story.”
A Little R&R
Since Michigan State’s Big Ten Tournament experience was cut short with a loss to Maryland, the Spartans have been staying at a hotel in Indianapolis as a part of the COVID-19 protocols for the NCAA Tournament.
When asked about what the team had been up to since Thursday, Henry mentioned that is was a combination of practice, film studies, and apparently, a lot of high quality rest, which the team desperately needed.
“It’s been a lot of time in my bed...It is good to get a comfortable sleep,” Henry said. “I have got a king-size bed in my room and I have never had that before, so that is one thing that I have really enjoyed so far....It has been some of the best sleep that I have gotten this year.”
As for the practice experience, the team practiced at a local YMCA, and the staff decided to play the classic Village People song of the same name for the team. Coach Izzo described it as, “Everybody was dancing, I think I even danced a little bit. Good thing it’s not on video.”
Malik Hall is on video dancing, however:
It's fun to play (practice) at the... pic.twitter.com/nXPjMyEV9D— Michigan State Basketball (@MSU_Basketball) March 14, 2021
But, it wasn’t all fun and games. Coach Izzo made sure to mention that the team has had great practices this week and that, “Our guys are going to be ready to play. I just feel good about that... We can play with anybody.”
Real Talk, with Coach Izzo
When Tom Izzo got onto the call, he started with an admission that he might have told a bit of a lie in past press conferences.
“I said that the 23-year (NCAA Tournament) stretch didn’t matter...I am proud of it, and I want to thank (my players) because they went through hell. I feel like getting in is a big deal.”
The discussion then turned quickly to Michigan State’s First Four draw. Coach Izzo clearly thought that MSU deserved a bit better.
“It seems like some teams got a tremendous benefit from not playing the games,” Izzo said. He then explained how he wonders if by pressing his team to return to play as quickly as possible after the COVID pause in late January might have hurt his squad.
As for the metrics used to select and seed teams, Coach Izzo was blunt: “The NET (NCAA Evaluation Tool) is a joke. If the NET hurt us, that’s a joke...If the NET really had an impact and it sure seems like it must have, then I think that’s embarrassing to our profession.”
But, after venting a bit to the audience about the selection process, the secrecy around it, and the way Michigan State and the bottom half of the Big Ten were treated, Coach Izzo started to focus on the positives.As for the play-in game, he had this to say:
“It’s a new experience for me,” Izzo said. “I should experience all those things while I am at Michigan State...I might as well experience a play-in game. That way I can say that I have done it all.”
“I am in,” Izzo later added. “I have the same opportunity as the No. 1 seeds and that is the way that I am going to look at it.”
At times, Izzo even seemed a bit defiant, like the scrappy, young Yooper with a chip on his shoulder. “We are going to see if we can do what I have done at lot in my career here: prove somebody wrong.”
Coach Izzo did seem to be a little concerned about the play-in game due to extra game with a team that went through such as compressed schedule at the end of the year. Then again, Izzo felt his team is more prepared for such a challenge than any other program.
“I can’t think of a team that’s more prepared to play on one-day preps, back-to-back-to-back more than we are...We are battle tested,” Izzo said. “We have been through it all.”
In closing, Coach Izzo started to turn his attention to the task at hand and the games coming up.
“Do we have enough left in our tank?,” Izzo asked. “We’ll find out on Thursday night...The task in front of us is going to be demanding, but exciting. It will just be be a new chapter in my book, and in the Michigan State basketball book.”
That chapter begins on Thursday evening at 9:57 p.m. Eastern Time in the familiar confines of Mackey Arena on the campus of Purdue University. The game will be shown on TBS. Go Green.