How Will Michigan and Michigan State Fare in the NCAA Tournament?

First off, I’m excited to say I placed fifth of 195 entrants on this year’s Bracket Matrix!  The goal is to win some year, but 97th percentile is nothing to complain about.  My overall score of 362, including 49 correctly seeded teams, blows away my previous highs from 2016 of 340 with 41 teams correctly seeded.  Scroll below this article or click here if you want to see my final projection from yesterday.

This also marks the third time in my four years on the Matrix that I’ve defeated various people who get paid to project the NCAA Tournament field (yes, shameless self-promotion).  Hopefully that translates into some success in my brackets, as I will be bringing you some analysis and making my picks over the next couple of days.

Tomorrow, I’ll cover how the NET appears to be applied by the Selection Committee, and on Wednesday, I’ll talk about who I think is over- or under-seeded, based on a combination of the season as a whole and recent performance.  The Committee ditched the “last 10 games” criteria a while ago, but as we navigate the brackets and look for potential upsets, as well as high-seeded teams to avoid investing in, we should look at this criterion.  For today, let’s look at the chances of my home-state teams, Michigan State and Michigan.

Before I talk about Michigan State, let’s address two common complaints right now.  First, the seeding, and second, the placement in the East region with Duke.  The seeding was never going to change based on the results of yesterday’s Big Ten championship game.  It has been known for years that the Selection Committee doesn’t care about the games that take place the day of the Selection Show, beyond those that determine automatic qualifiers from one-bid leagues.

Bernard Muir, the Committee Chair, confirmed as much when he stated last night that they knew Michigan and Michigan State were 2 seeds going into the weekend.  This calls into question how much Saturday’s games even mattered, but I don’t know.  I do know for certain that Selection Sunday games don’t matter in seeding, never have, and probably never will.

As for being placed with Duke, that’s unfortunate.  But it’s not insurmountable, as we’ll discuss.  But here’s the thing.  The Committee will not place the overall number 1 and overall number 5 seed together.  That means Tennessee wasn’t going to the East region.

Moreover, they try to keep teams as close to home as possible and in the event that all teams on a given high seed line play east of the Mississippi – a common event nowadays given the pitiful state of Pac 12 basketball – the last team on that line will be banished to the West region.  That would be Michigan.  That also means Tennessee was going to be placed in the South, as the location of the regional (Louisville) is closest to home for them.    So, either Kentucky or MSU was going to be paired with Duke, with the other being paired with North Carolina in the Midwest region.  Do you really believe a team is significantly better off playing UNC than Duke?

That being said, I like Michigan State’s chances to make a run much more than I did last year.  They have returned to their traditional mold under Tom Izzo: great point guard play (Cassius Winston), a couple of dangerous perimeter shooters (Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins), and bigs who crash the boards and out-tough their opponents (Xaiver Tillman).

That last element was glaringly missing last year, and had a lot to do with the second-round loss to Syracuse.  Eventually, and predictably if you had paid attention throughout the season, the Spartans simply folded against the Syracuse zone.  It was hideous and ugly.  This was a game that was unwatchable unless you were a Syracuse fan, took twisted pleasure in seeing a higher-seeded team lose in front of basically a home crowd (the game was in Detroit), took Syracuse on the money line at +448 because you had been paying attention, or some combination of the above.  So the game was watchable for me, but I digress.

There is no point in even discussing the first-round matchup against Bradley, so let’s move on.  When we look at a potential second-round game against Louisville or Minnesota, I do not see MSU losing to Louisville again, nor do I see them falling against a mediocre Minnesota team.

As we move forward to the Sweet Sixteen, a few teams could await.  Let’s look at them.  LSU has no coach, Maryland is so mistake-prone that they will probably lose to the Belmont/Temple winner (especially if it’s Belmont), and that team will not beat Michigan State (if they get by LSU).

So now it’s on to the Elite Eight.  Here, it will be absolutely critical for Tillman to stay out of foul trouble, as Michigan State is clearly better with him in the lineup than with Nick Ward or any of their other bigs.  If he can do so, they have a chance to overcome Zion Williamson and Duke to reach the Final Four.  If not, forget about it.  It’s that simple.

I am not saying Tillman, or anyone else on the face of the earth, is going to stop Williamson, but we are talking about a difference between a 20/10 game and a Williamson names his numbers and goes out and gets them game.

With that in mind, let’s look at Michigan.  Here, it’s less of a matchup and round-by-round issue than an issue of this: can these guys stay out of their own way?  When they pummeled Iowa and Minnesota over the weekend, the offense was a thing of beauty.  Ball movement, player movement, and finding the good shot – staples of the John Beilein era – were displayed throughout each game.

Turn your pages to Michigan State on Sunday, and it was back to the stale, stagnant, standing around, isolation offense that we’ve seen way too much from this team this season.  This type of offense works in the NBA, or if you have players who are good enough to be in the NBA next year.  Michigan is not in the NBA, nor is anyone on the roster good enough to be in it next year.

So, in a pattern that has repeated itself most games since Big Ten play started (going back to December), the offense had multiple several-minutes-long periods of forcing up terrible shots after using the first 28 seconds of the shot clock to do nothing.  This caused a 13-point lead early in the second half to disintegrate into a third loss to the Spartans in as many weeks.

So, the key for Michigan is to play with some sort of purpose on offense.  The defense is more than good enough to keep them in any game.  But, the rhythm and shot selection on offense will be the difference between an exit against Nevada or Florida this Saturday and advancing to the Elite Eight to face Gonzaga, or Florida State, or Syracuse (this region could get really chaotic really fast) and possibly beyond.

In short, I expect MSU to advance at least to the Elite Eight, and I see Michigan as a total wildcard.  So, that’s it for today.  Tomorrow, I’ll offer some thoughts on how it looks like the NET was applied.  For now, start working on your brackets!  And hey, why not look at the Bracket Matrix to see how everyone did? 

About Mike B.

Avid sports fan, particularly of the Detroit Lions, Pistons, and Tigers, and University of Michigan.
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