Michigan State basketball: How Spartans can still make the NCAA Tournament

Here’s what has to happen for Michigan State to make the NCAA Tournament.

The clock is officially starting to run out for Michigan State, which enters this week at just 11-9 overall and 5-9 in Big Ten play. Those numbers, combined with a NET ranking of 81 entering tonight’s game with Illinois, explain why the Spartans aren’t even on the bubble right now.

The good news for Tom Izzo’s team is the Big Ten did the Spartans a solid with their rescheduled games from an earlier COVID pause. Games against Illinois and Michigan have been added to Michigan State’s schedule, providing some solid opportunities for the Spartans to rack up some quality wins.

Right now the biggest roadblock for Michigan State is an abysmal performance against Quadrant 1 foes, with the Spartans going just 2-8 in ten opportunities against them. A third Quad 1 win fell off the board when Rutgers slipped outside of the NET’s top 30, turning Michigan State’s home victory against them into a Quadrant 2 win instead.

Michigan State basketball has a path to the NCAA Tournament

A bad loss against Northwestern has also been an anchor to the Spartans, who to this point have only two victories against teams projected to make the field of 68, with one of those wins coming against Indiana, which is one of the last teams in. The good news is that five of the Spartans’ final six games are Quadrant I opportunities, with the lone exception being next week’s home game against Indiana.

Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan all visit the Breslin Center over the next two weeks while the Spartans’ two road trips come against Maryland and Michigan. Playing all of those games will be a significant boost to Michigan State’s metrics, which should raise the team’s NET ranking, but the key will be finding ways to win those games.

Going 4-2 over the Spartans’ final six games, assuming one of the wins comes against Indiana, will have Michigan State finishing the regular season at 15-11 overall with a 7-9 mark in the Big Ten. Perhaps more importantly, the Spartans would have five Quadrant 1 wins, including wins over several foes that could be in the mix for top seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Following up that performance with an appearance in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament would all but guarantee that Michigan State’s final loss before Selection Sunday would come against a likely tournament team, adding another Quad 1 game to their ledger. That degree of competition should be enough to help the Spartans at least sneak into the First Four given the weakness of the bubble as a whole.

The other option that Michigan State has is to win the Big Ten Tournament to claim the conference’s automatic bid. That path is much more difficult since it would require beating some combination of Michigan, Illinois, Ohio State, Purdue, Iowa, and Wisconsin in succession to earn a ticket to the dance.

Simply put, these next two weeks will tell a lot about whether Izzo will get a chance to work some of his patented March Madness magic with the Spartans this year. Anything short of the paths we have just laid out will mean that Michigan State is going to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997.

For more NCAA basketball news, analysis, opinion and features, check out more from the FanSided college basketball section to stay on top of the latest action.

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