Michigan State basketball: When’s the last time Spartans missed NCAA Tournament?

Michigan State basketball is squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble and in danger of snapping a lengthy run of March Madness appearances.

There is a reason that many college basketball fans substitute Izzo for the word March come tournament time. The Michigan State Spartans have become NCAA Tournament fixtures under head coach Tom Izzo, who has always done a tremendous job getting his teams playing their basketball by the time March Madness rolls around.

The Spartans have reached the dance for 22 straight seasons, the third-longest active streak in Division I, and Michigan State reached the Final Four when the NCAA Tournament was last held in 2019. The last edition of March Madness without Izzo’s team came back in 1997, which was his second year on the job.

The Spartans went 17-12 in that season and 9-9 in Big Ten play, a mark that saw them finish sixth in the conference during the regular season. The selection committee opted not to give Michigan State an at-large that year, sending the Spartans to the NIT instead, where they won a round before falling to Florida State.

There has been one other close call for the Spartans during the streak, which came back in 2011 when Michigan State rallied from a 13-10 start to finish 19-14 and sneak into the field as a 10-seed before falling to UCLA in the Round of 64. Things are considerably dicier for Izzo’s team this season, which enters the stretch run of the regular-season squarely on the bubble.

March Madness: Will Michigan State miss the NCAA Tournament in 2021?

The Spartans have a narrow path to the dance and are following it pretty well so far, going 3-1 over their past four games, a run that includes victories against Illinois, Ohio State and Indiana. A home-and-home with Michigan, which will be ticked off following a brutal loss to the Fighting Illini on Tuesday, will also be critical for Michigan State’s chances of making the field.

If the season ended today the Spartans would be one of the last four teams in the field and destined for a First Four matchup. Finding a way to split with the Wolverines would guarantee a fifth Quadrant 1 win for Michigan State, bringing them to 15-11 on the season and providing a better resume than a lot of teams near them on the cut line.

Getting swept would make the path harder, likely ensuring that the Spartans would need to make a big run in the Big Ten tournament to get far. If the season were to end today Michigan State would be in the 8-9 game against Rutgers, a contest they would have to win before getting a third shot at Michigan in the span of two weeks.

The advantage that Izzo has is that his team will get the Wolverines on back-to-back games this week, a situation that is very difficult for one team to secure a sweep of. As long as the Spartans can ensure they get a win over Michigan they should find a way to extend their NCAA Tournament streak to 23 consecutive appearances.

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