INDIANNAPOLIS — Injuries and losses have piled up for the Spartans as they fell to Purdue, 72-63 in the first round of the Big Ten women’s basketball tournament on Thursday.
MSU (16-14, 9-10 Big Ten) has seen its season spiral out after making the second round of the NCAA tournament just a year ago while welcoming the No. 7 ranked recruiting class just a year ago.
Now, any hopes of making the NCAA tournament were extinguished a long time ago, but hopes of receiving an invitation to the Women’s National Invitational Tournament (WNIT) still persist even after a disappointing opening round contest.
After another pair of ill-timed injury setbacks, questions have been raised about even accepting a possible WNIT berth for the Spartans.
“I don’t know if we could go, meaning field a team at this point,” said MSU coach Suzy Merchant. “That’s a discussion I’ll have with our higher-ups, but right now it is more about celebrating these kids.”
The decision as to whether MSU would accept an invitation to play in the WNIT is up in the air.
“We’re just very beat up and there’s things that you guys don’t even know about that are on paper that I have that you will never know, and there’s other issues too,” said Merchant. “I don’t really know where we stand with that quite yet. That’s a decision we will have to make in the future, but certainly not today.”
The injury bug has bitten like a snake on MSU’s forearm this year. After welcoming back redshirt-junior guard Shay Colley against Michigan on Feb. 23, Kayla Belles was extremely limited against Purdue because of a severe ankle injury maintained in practice earlier this week.
“The day before we left she rolled up her ankle and that’s why she hardly played,” Merchant said. “It’s a typical end to our season I guess if you look at what has happened to us. All of our good players have gotten hurt and she is one of them.”
According to NCAA.com, Michigan State currently sports the 97th best RPI rating in the nation which only complicates the Spartans possible postseason hopes.
Season highs of knocking off ranked opponents in Purdue and Rutgers were cancelled out with season low performances against Penn State and Michigan when the Spartans had a chance to gain momentum in the standings.
Perhaps no metric better encapsulates the Spartans average season than the 9-9 regular season conference record.
The WNIT committee does take into consideration a team’s strength of schedule and injuries when deciding who to include, which MSU had an abundance of both.
The mood in the locker room reflected that of a beaten and bruised squad who is ready to put a disappointing season behind them.
“Taryn said this is our last ten minutes on the court together, so we tried to fight for her and for the team,” said Colley.
McCutcheon offered her own sage wisdom after the premature tournament exit.
“Knowing what each of us has gone through and to make it here and to be playing possibly our last game together, I think this motivated us to keep playing hard,” McCutcheon said.
“This jersey is a privilege and it might be the last time wearing it, so you want to give everything you got on the court.”
If the Spartans decide to accept the bid, McCutcheon and MSU will fully expect to compete for a WNIT championship.
“I don’t know if we are in it or not, we haven’t really discussed it,” said McCutcheon. “But if we have that chance and hopefully we do then we will go win the tournament and give these younger girls some more experience with one and done games.”
Merchant and the rest of the athletic department will have a week and a half to ponder their next steps as a team.
The selection show for the WNIT is set for Monday, March 16.
Nathan Stearns is a beat reporter for Impact89FM who primarily covers women’s basketball and field hockey. Follow him on Twitter @NathanStearns11.