COACH: Tom Izzo, 15 years at Michigan State, 13 years in NCAA tournament.
HOW THEY GOT IN: At-large bid MATCHUP BREAKDOWN: Michigan State looked like world-beaters while sweeping through the first half of the Big Ten schedule, but the Spartans lost their mojo right about the time junior point guard Kalin Lucas hurt his ankle on Feb. 2 and then suffered a foot infection. Lucas needs to be at 100 percent because New Mexico State is the rare team that might love to run more than the Spartans. Another big plus for Michigan State? The Aggies aren’t good at protecting the defensive glass, which plays right in the hands of Draymond Green, Raymar Morgan and Co.
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GO-TO GUYS: Junior PG Kalin Lucas didn’t repeat as Big Ten Player of the Year, but he retained his first-team All-League status as he remains the Spartans’ engine. Despite being slowed by a high-ankle sprain midway through Big Ten play, Lucas (14.8 points per game, 3.9 assists per game) kept producing. Sophomore PF Draymond Green (10.1 points per game, 7.8 rpg) might be the Spartans’ best all-around player as the Big Ten’s Sixth Man of the Year (and third-team All-League pick). He does everything except shoot 3-pointers. When he gets the ball with his back to the basket, he’s just as likely to throw a perfect pass as attack the rim for a layup. Senior Raymar Morgan (11.1 points per game) and junior Durrell Summers (10.3 points per game) are athletic specimens who can erupt for 20-plus any night. Morgan, in particular, has been hot for the last fortnight.
THEY’LL KEEP WINNING IF: The Spartans forget about the first-round Big Ten tournament loss and remember the effort that it took to reach last year’s national championship game. Michigan State retained seven of its top nine players from that team, but all seven of those guys don’t seem to show up on the same night this season. Having so many talented players can be a boon during the NCAA Tournament, which can be so much about matchups. In Michigan State’s final five February games, a different Spartan led in scoring each time. STRENGTHS: If you match Michigan State on the boards, then you’ve done the improbable. The Spartans again rank among the nation’s top teams in rebounding margin (plus-9.2 per game), and it might be the most important part of their identity. They’re 21-3 when they outrebound a team, but just 3-4 when they don’t. Michigan State remains devastating in transition — after missed shots as well as made baskets — and shoots 52.2 percent on two-pointers. The Spartans limit opponents to 41-percent shooting from the field.
WEAKNESSES: For a team with a terrific point guard, Michigan State commits a ton of turnovers. The Spartans improved on their miscue rate late in the season, but they’ve still committed more than they’ve forced. And for a team with a brilliant shooter in Chris Allen and other willing perimeter threats, the Spartans hit just 33 percent of their 3-pointers and 69 percent at the free-throw line.