According to ESPN Bracketology ‘expert’ Joe Lunardi, both the Michigan Wolverines and the Michigan State Spartans would be in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today, albeit not comfortably.
He has Michigan (17-10, 7-7 Big Ten) tabbed as a 9-seed currently, while MSU (16-11, 8-6 Big Ten) is pegged as a 10-seed. They’re both dancing… at least for now.
Up until their overtime road loss to Minnesota on Sunday, Michigan was on a real nice run with a blowout win over MSU, a double-digit road win at Indiana and a statement win at home against Big Ten-leading Wisconsin. The win over the Badgers instantly became their best win of the year for head coach John Beilein and his bunch, along with a November victory against Southern Methodist on a neutral floor. They also have a sweep of the Hoosiers, but that value is diminished some due to Indiana falling off as the season has progressed.
There still are some questions about the Wolverines, however. There are some losses on the docket that hurt the resume a little bit, particularly losing at home to Ohio State and getting waxed on the road to Illinois, two of the three worst teams in the conference. And the road woes continue to be a problem. The loss Sunday night dropped their record to 1-7 in true road games away from Ann Arbor.
The good news, or bad news, perhaps? Three of their final four regular season games are on the road. On paper, some are “win-able” like at Rutgers (02/22) and at Nebraska (03/05). There is also another chance for a benchmark win when they host Purdue (02/25) in their home finale of the year.
Now what about the rivals up in East Lansing? As evident by Mr. Lunardi’s projection, their picture is a bit more murky. And adding injury to insult, the Spartans’ third-leading scorer Eron Harris is out for the season with a knee injury.
Let’s start with the good news surrounding the Spartans. Overall, they have been playing better up until the 17-point loss at Purdue this past Saturday. Including that result, they have won four of their last six games. They still have dynamic play-makers that can (using that loosely) take over games in freshmen Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. It also helps to have a Hall of Fame coach in Tom Izzo at the helm who has earned a reputation for overachieving around this time of the year and making late runs into the postseason.
But how much luck will he and the crew have this go-round? It’s going to be an uphill climb as it has been all season long. Comparing to Michigan, the resume for the Spartans is not as good. Their statement win(s) are a neutral-site game against Wichita State and a season sweep of Minnesota, not as eye-popping. They too have some bad scars on their person, among them being a road loss (officially neutral site at The Palestra) against Penn State, a road loss at Ohio State, and a loss at home to mid-major Northeastern.
Another tough schedule early on did not do Izzo and his team any favors, playing four top-20 foes in the month of November. At the same token, that tough schedule will ultimately aid their resume for the committee. MSU is 1-6 against ranked teams this year, but has two more such games to change that: home vs. Wisconsin (02/26) and at Maryland (03/05).
Ideally speaking, both teams are just about in the same boat. Michigan appears to be in a slightly better situation than the Spartans but neither can afford any more slip-ups. That means beating the teams you’re suppose to beat and at the worst, playing a hard-fought game in full against teams that are superior to you. There is also the Big Ten Tournament in Washington D.C. this year to help pile up more wins.
It’s indeed that time of the year, Nation. Buckle up.