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Can Michigan AND Michigan State play in Detroit to open March Madness?

The calendar has turned to March. Let the madness begin. With Selection Sunday just a few days away, tickets to the dance are being punched left and right.

Michigan is among a dozen teams to have won their conference tournament already after taking down Purdue in the Big Ten Championship last Sunday in Madison Square Garden. That came one day after the Wolverines ousted in-state rival and Big Ten top seed Michigan State in the semifinals.

We know that both U-M and MSU, as well as the Boilermakers, are expected to earn, at worst, top-4 seeds come Selection Sunday. But one question still remains: where will they play during the first weekend of the tournament?

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One of the eight first-weekend regional sites for the NCAA Tournament this season is Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit, which was the first of many high-profile events booked for the new venue. Detroit and the other seven tournament venues for the first and second rounds are allotted a maximum of two higher-seeded teams.

More specifically, the selection committee ranks all the tournament teams 1-68 and then divvies them up accordingly. The higher seeds are rewarded by playing in sites closest to their campuses. Each first-weekend region is given two of the top 16 overall seeds.

Both Michigan and Michigan State are currently projected to be among the top 16, which in theory would make them ideal candidates to be slotted in Detroit. However, it is not a foregone conclusion that the Wolverines and Spartans will play down at LCA.

In fact, both could be playing their first-round matchups elsewhere.

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There are multiple factors that could play into whether or not fans of U-M and MSU get to see their respective teams playing in Detroit. The biggest being other contenders to be ranked ahead of one or both by the committee.

Of the projected top 16 seeds, three other schools — Xavier, Cincinnati and aforementioned Purdue — are all viable candidates to play their first- and potential second-round games in Detroit. Xavier (Big East) and Cincinnati (AAC) won their respective conference regular season titles outright and are shooting for No. 1 seeds in the dance.

If the tournament were to start today, both Xavier and Cincinnati would have higher seeds than both Michigan and Michigan State. Detroit cannot carry the Wolverines and/or Spartans if the Musketeers and Bearcats are awarded the LCA venue. There is, however, a caveat to this whole dilemma. Two other first-weekend sites — Nashville and Pittsburgh — are virtually the same distance from the Queen City. So hypothetically speaking, the committee has discretion and could pencil them in for either Nashville or Pittsburgh.

As for Purdue, Detroit is the closest venue site for them on the first weekend of the dance, making them just as much of a candidate as the Cincy-made schools and mitten-made schools. If the committee deems them a higher seed than U-M or MSU, that will surely clog up one of the two spots.

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Another added wrinkle to this is the fact that with the Big Ten having wrapped up their conference tournament already, it allows for some of these other teams projected to finish among the top 16 overall to pad their resumes and “jump” both Michigan and Michigan State.

So when you consider everything factored in, it is possible that either, neither, or both Michigan and Michigan State could be playing close to home come Friday, March 16. And with the differences in perception between the two programs being so marginal and paper thin — depending on your preferred outlet for tournament projections — it makes for a fascinating topic of conversation.

Michigan has the Big Ten Tournament title in their back pocket and is without question the hottest team in the league, and possibly the nation. However, many of the tournament projections have been reluctant, at least so far, to award the Wolverines a higher overall seed than both the Spartans and even the Boilermakers, two teams they beat just last weekend.

In hindsight, it probably won’t make a huge difference where Michigan and Michigan State end up playing next weekend, given the fact that both fan bases will surely show up in droves to support their programs. But it may be in the best financial interest of the NCAA to set it up in a way that puts one or even both at Little Caesars Arena in terms of ticket sales.

Written by Alex Muller

MSU Graduate. Just a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Baseball is life, a pitcher at heart. Freelance writer for MIPrepZone (News-Herald, Press & Guide).

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