Michigan State earned the No. 1 seed in the West Regional on Sunday, just about an hour after the Spartans beat Ohio State for the Big Ten championship, making the Spartans an early favorite among conference teams to reach the Final Four.
The Big Ten and Big 12 each have six teams in the tournament, second to the Big East, which boasts nine.
The Spartans open with a second-round game in Columbus, Ohio, against No. 16 seed LIU-Brooklyn on Friday. If the Spartans win, they’ll face the winner of Memphis/St. Louis on Sunday. If No. 8 seed Memphis advances and plays the Spartans, it could be the toughest third-round matchup of the tournament.
“I can’t say I was sure that we were going to get a No. 1 seed,” said Spartans forward Draymond Green, the Big Ten’s Player of the Year. “I thought we’d probably get a 2. But it’s a great feeling. It’s just another one of those things that I haven’t done in my career. The highest I’ve been is a 2-seed.”
This Michigan State team could be the best of coach Tom Izzo’s career, and he isn’t shy about using the No. 1 seed to promote his program.
“There is a prestigious point to it for our league, for our team and for our program,” Izzo said. “And I think players get to leave and say, ‘I was a 1-seed.’ There’s only four of them. That’s a little different than, ‘I got in the NCAA tournament.’ And it’s kind of a measuring stick, like Final Fours are measuring sticks.”
Ohio State and Wisconsin are in perhaps the strongest regional of the tournament, the East. The Buckeyes are a No. 2 seed, and Wisconsin is a No. 4.
The Buckeyes open Thursday against Loyola (Md.) in Pittsburgh, not on their home court at Value City Arena in Columbus.
Michigan has the potential to reach the Sweet 16 and could meet No. 5 seed Temple in a possible third-round matchup.
Purdue, seeded 10th in the Midwest, will play Saint Mary’s in Omaha, Neb., on Friday. The Boilermakers were the last Big Ten team in the tournament and are recovering from some off-the-court drama.
Last month, coach Matt Painter dismissed junior guard Kelsey Barlow after an incident at a West Lafayette, Ind., bar. Forward D.J. Byrd was arrested on suspicion of public intoxication in the same incident, but Painter only suspended Byrd.
And fourth-seeded Indiana is reeling from the loss of point guard Verdell Jones III to a torn right anterior cruciate ligament.