Michigan State Basketball still tourney-bound despite Penn State loss

After losing to Penn State at the Palestra, Michigan State basketball still looks to be tourney-bound as we look at this week’s Spartan Avenue Bracketology.

The Michigan State basketball team was put in a precarious position going forward after losing to Penn State as a favorite. The Spartans can ill afford to lose more games against weaker teams going forward, especially at home.

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Even before the Penn State game, I was planning on writing an article in the opposite mold of last week’s prediction that everything was sunny for the Spartans. But after that loss, it’s evident there is still plenty to worry about with this Michigan State team and that’s only amplified by how the first couple months of the season played out.

MSU’s inability to pick up a win against a good non-conference team limits its chances of getting anything higher than a five-seed come tournament time. Of course, if the Spartans continue to play similar to how they did last Saturday against the Nittany Lions, they won’t even have to worry about the NCAA tournament.

The Spartans still have a high RPI based on overall strength of schedule, but their best non-conference wins were against Florida Gulf Coast and Oakland. However, for the sake of this article, I’ll stop using RPI for the time being as their rankings are a bit out of whack in the middle of the season with Minnesota a top-10 team and Wisconsin barely cracking the top 50. And so, KenPom will be the preferred ranking system going forward. The Spartans ranked at No. 47 on KenPom ahead of Tuesday’s games.

The good thing for Michigan State is that the Big Ten is reasonably balanced, much more so than previous seasons with every team providing some kind of relevance outside of Rutgers. On the negative side of that, there is no truly elite team in the top 10, meaning no one in the conference can make large jumps in the rankings because none of the teams were dominant in non-conference play. That’s opposed to last season when the Spartans were undefeated in non-conference play with huge wins over Kansas and Louisville. Any time they lost in the Big Ten, that boosted their opponent, while they kept their solid ranking throughout the season.

Getting back to this season, I had Michigan State slated for 20 wins, but that loss to Penn State took one off that projected total. KenPom has the Spartans projected at 18-13 ahead of the Big Ten tournament. With that record, they’ll likely make the tournament as around a 10-seed mainly because they won’t have any terrible losses, while having a slew of solid wins.

But a 10-seed slightly on the bubble isn’t exactly where Spartan fans want to be. At this point, a six-seed is the ideal spot, but a seven-seed is still a workable position. The problem is that some possible two-seeds include North Carolina, Duke and Baylor. Obviously, that’s far in the future, but it’s a valid reason to desire a six-seed.

To get there, the Spartans will have to win all of their home games outside of Purdue and Wisconsin. If they can split those two, that’s fine, but it’s not a stretch to suggest they lose their three games against those two teams.

With that Penn State loss, the key for MSU to reach 20 wins will be to win road games against teams like Ohio State, Illinois and Maryland. None of those games will be easy, but that’s how their outlook is when they lose ones they’re favored in, such as the Penn State game.

Ahead of this week’s games, I have the Spartans as an 8-seed in my full bracket, which is still higher than most around the country.

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