It's been more than a decade since the Michigan State men's basketball team won a national championship; the Spartans, led then by Mateen Cleaves and Mo Peterson, took home the title in 2000.
March is Tom Izzo's month, though. Since the beginning of the century, the 60-year-old coach has led his program to seven Elite Eights, five Final Fours and two national championship games. When it comes to games that occur in the third month of the year, it's likely best to not bet against Michigan State.
How far can the Spartans go this year?
While Kentucky is the overwhelming favorite, we do believe it is possible that Michigan State could take home its third national championship.
Here are five reasons why.
5. The East Region Is Weak
Michigan State's region, the East, is likely the weakest of the four.
Pretty much every team seeded ahead of the Spartans in the East either has a big flaw or hasn't been playing well; No. 1 Villanova relies a lot on 3-point shooting and could get cold; No. 2 Virginia has been struggling recently, losing two of its last three games, and seems to be a bit disjointed since re-inserting Justin Anderson into the lineup; No. 3 Oklahoma lost 10 games this season; No. 4 Louisville is pretty terrible offensively; No. 5 Northern Iowa is one of the worst rebounding teams in the country; No. 6 Providence is 6-6 over the last month and a half.
Yes, Michigan State is a No. 7 seed - prior to last year, the last No. 7 seed to make the Final Four was Virginia in 1984 - but the path to Indianapolis seems fairly doable for the Spartans. Once you're there, anything can happen, as we saw last year with UConn.
4. Offensive Efficiency
There's not much offensive talent jumping off the page when you look at Michigan State's roster. Travis Trice is undersized, Branden Dawson is fairly limited with the ball, Denzel Valentine is pretty streaky and none of the true big men possess a lot of moves.
The Spartans find ways to get it done, though. Mostly, they're just ridiculously efficient.
According to Ken Pomeroy's rankings, Michigan State is the 14th-most efficient team in the country on offense, scoring 114.1 points per 100 possessions. That's the second-highest rating of any team in the East Region (Villanova is No. 4).
Efficiency plays well when it's win-or-go-home.
No. 3, Ball Movement
This is kind of an expansion of the last point on offensive efficiency. Michigan State is ridiculously good at sharing the ball and getting good looks.
This season, the Spartans rank No. 4 in the country in assists per game with 17.1 per game. Five MSU players average at least one assist per game, with Trice and Valentine leading the way with 5.2 and 4.4, respectively.
In the NCAA Tournament, which pits teams from different conferences with different styles against each other, having good ball movement is one of the surest ways to score. Michigan State is as good at getting good looks at the basket at anyone. The Spartans shouldn't struggle to score over the next three weeks.
No. 2, They're Surging
In the least-surprising news ever, Michigan State is starting to play its best basketball at the most important time of the year.
The Spartans have won eight of their last 11 games, with two of those losses coming in overtime and the other one coming by seven points, on the road, against Wisconsin. In the Big Ten Tournament, MSU easily defeated Ohio State, came back from a nearly 20-point deficit against Maryland and were one play away from defeating the Badgers and taking home the title.
Everything seems to be clicking for Izzo's squad; the 3-pointers are falling, they're forcing turnovers and rebounding well. They're a No. 7 seed, but they've looked more like a No. 2 seed over the past two weeks. If they continue to play like this, they could be the team to beat in the East Region.
No. 1, Tom Izzo
Michigan State has multiple reasons for optimism in the NCAA Tournament, but none are more relevant than this one: Tom Izzo is the team's head coach.
The 60-year-old coach is perhaps the greatest tournament coach in the sport. Every year, it seems like Izzo has a ridiculously dangerous tournament team, and that is the case this year, too. The Spartans always seem to overachieve.
Since 2000, Michigan State is an incredible 36-14 in the NCAA Tournament. That's just insane. Maybe MSU isn't the most-talented team in the field, or even one of the squads most-likely to win it all, but they've got the coach everyone would want leading their team. That's a big deal.
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