Spartans rewarded with No. 3 seed, first weekend in Detroit

EAST LANSING, Mich. — After an extra week off filled with doubts, Michigan State men’s basketball got what it wanted in its draw for the 2018 NCAA tournament: A weekend right at home in the Great Lakes State.

The Spartans (29-4 overall) were awarded the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region when the brackets were revealed Sunday evening on TBS. But of more note to Spartan fans: They will play their first and second round games in Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena, beginning with Friday’s first round matchup against No. 14 seed Bucknell.

“Being in Detroit is great for us,” coach Tom Izzo said at the Breslin Center following the bracket release. “I’m excited to be playing in our state.”

It will mark the second time this season the Spartans will play in the brand-new arena between Downtown and Midtown. In December, the Spartans were powered by a heavily green-and-white crowd to an 86-73 victory over the Oakland Grizzlies.

Izzo’s teams have twice played in the Detroit area in the NCAA tournament. The first came in the Spartans’ run to the 2000 national championship, when the Midwest Regional was held at the Palace of Auburn Hills. The Spartans defeated Syracuse and Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, respectively.

Nine years later, Ford Field hosted the 2009 Final Four, where the Spartans defeated Connecticut before dropping the national title game to North Carolina. Izzo reflected on the “fun” memories he remembers making with the games so close to the East Lansing campus.

“There’s no doubt if we weren’t in the Palace, I’m not sure it would’ve been the same outcome,” the 23rd-year head coach said. “It is so cool when your fans, when your state kind of embraces you. I think there will be a lot of happy Spartans that get to go to the game without spending a tremendous amount of money. Unfortunately, they don’t win the game for you. But if you’re [supported by] a home court crowd, it helps you get a better chance to win it.”

For Izzo’s program, it’s the 21st consecutive appearance in the Big Dance, the third-longest streak in the nation. The two teams with longer streaks, Kansas (29 years) and Duke (23 years), are the top two seeds in the Spartans’ Midwest Regional. Should the teams win their first two matchups, the Spartans and Blue Devils will have a rematch of November’s 1-vs-2 showdown at the Champions Classic in Chicago won by Duke.

“It is a heck of a feat. It’s consistency. That was my ultimate goal the day we got here: Can we make this a consistent winner?” Izzo asked rhetorically. “I think we’ve established that we’re pretty consistent.

“Now it’s at another level. Now, the consistency of success isn’t just getting in the tournament anymore. It’s making deep runs in the tournament. It’s getting to Final Fours and it’s winning national championships.”

The Midwest Regional semifinals and finals will be held in Omaha’s CenturyLink Center. Should the Spartans emerge with four consecutive wins, they will head to San Antonio for the Final Four, which will be played at the Alamodome.

Should the Spartans defeat Bucknell, the champions of the Patriot League, the second round game would be against the winner of No. 6 seed TCU and No. 11 seeds Arizona State or Syracuse, who will play a play-in game Wednesday in Dayton, Ohio.

Bucknell not only won the Patriot League’s regular season title, but also clinched the tournament championship. The Bison ran away with the league, sporting a 16-2 record in conference. They haven’t lost in eight games, capping off the streak with an 83-54 blowout victory over the league’s second-best team, Colgate.

Friday’s game against Bucknell will tip off at 7:10 p.m. from Little Caesars Arena. The game will be televised on CBS.