Why Michigan State should still make the NCAA tournament

Frederick Hubacker
Frederick Hubacker
Published in
3 min readFeb 28, 2021

Despite struggling in the regular season for the first time in what seems like forever, Tom Izzo’s Spartans should still be in the NCAA tournament.

For Michigan State fans, the 2020–2021 season began very promising. A perfect 6–0 out of conference record, and a 4th overall rank coming into big 10 play had people thinking they would yet again challenge for the Big 10 regular season title.

What followed will make spartan fans shake their heads in disbelief.

3 straight losses against Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Minnesota to start the conference season set the tone for disaster. MSU lost 4 of their first 6 games in conference play. This was the worst start in conference play by Michigan State Basketball in 20 years.

Then the unthinkable happened.

After the Spartan’s heartbreaking 54–55 loss against Purdue on January 8th, a few players came down with COVID-19. Ultimately, Michigan State had to shut down their basketball program for two weeks, which made the season look all but lost at that point. The Spartans looked noticeably flat coming out of the COVID-19 break, losing 3 straight including an embarrassing 67–37 loss to Rutgers.

They managed to pull back with wins against Penn State and Nebraska, but the following convincing loss against Iowa and 2nd defeat at the hands of Purdue were back breaking in regards to MSU’s tournament hopes. They would need a positive, maybe perfect record with their next 7 games, 5 of them are against ranked teams, and to win a few games in the Big 10 tournament as well. While this seems like a tall task, (and it is) Interestingly having this tough schedule also helps their chances of getting into the NCAA tournament as well as making it a tougher road.

The chart above represents the top 10 teams, and the amount of quadrant wins they have according to NET rankings. Team opponents are separated into certain quadrants based on their ranking, and the location of the game. Quadrant 1 wins are the highest and mean the most when it comes to participating in the NCAA tournament, while quadrant 4 is the lowest tier. Location factors in through the site of the game, so if MSU plays Indiana, a Quadrant 2 team at Indiana’s home court, then in some circumstances a win against Indiana would count as a quadrant 1 win.

Those circumstances mentioned above were the exact way MSU’s next game played out, as they topped Indiana 78–71 and notched a Quadrant 1 win. States next two games were against number 5 Illinois and number 4 Ohio State, so those were automatically quadrant 1 games no matter where they played.

Michigan State won both of those games.

Don’t look now but Tom Izzo is proving why they call him “Mr. March”, his teams get hot when it matters. They still have work to do and have to either win out the rest of the way, or win 2–3 of these next 4 games against Maryland, Indiana, and Michigan twice. Three of those games are quadrant 1, and the two games against Michigan will be the biggest of them all.

The chart above represents the record that MSU basketball has had against the teams they played in each of the 4 Quadrants. As you can see, MSU has a perfect record against teams from Quadrants 3 and 4, indicating that they are beating the teams that they should. Quadrant 1 wins matter the most when it comes to the NCAA tournament, but if you compare MSU’s wins against Quadrant 1 teams to the top 10 teams in the country, they really don’t shape up that bad. Those 8 losses are ugly, but that is forgiven more because they are in the Big 10, which is considered the best conference in the NCAA this year.

The big boost to MSU’s tournament resume is those 4 Quadrant 1 wins, which are more than 3 current top 10 NET ranking teams and has room to grow as well. If Tom Izzo can get his guys to keep playing like they have been over the past 3 games, then we might be looking at a 23rd straight NCAA title berth. Until then, MSU fans hold your breath.

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Frederick Hubacker
Frederick Hubacker

Student at Central Michigan University, Studying Broadcasting and Cinematic Arts and Sports Management.