Izzo's Spartans trying for late push to improve NCAA chances

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Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo reacts during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Maryland, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021, in College Park, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Michigan State has gone from the top tier of the AP Top 25 poll to desperately trying to bolster a shaky NCAA Tournament resume.

The Spartans helped themselves in the past week, beating fifth-ranked Illinois on Tuesday and No. 4 Ohio State two days later. Throw in the previous weekend’s win at Indiana, and the Spartans earned three Quadrant 1 wins – headliners on any tournament resume – after having one all season.

“We’re not safe in anything yet,” coach Tom Izzo said after Ohio State win. “We haven’t accomplished anything yet. But we did accomplish that we can get up off the mat. Now, can we sustain being off the mat?”

To Izzo's point, the Spartans missed a chance to help themselves even more with Sunday’s 73-55 loss at Maryland, which began with the Spartans falling behind 11-0 in a start that irritated Izzo because of what he called “standing around.”

As of midday Sunday, the Illinois and Ohio State wins were enough to have the Spartans (13-10, 7-10 Big Ten, No. 68 NET) sneaking in as a No. 12 seed in BracketMatrix.com’s average of 104 tournament projections, appearing in 52 mock brackets for the 68-team field before the Maryland loss.

They're in danger of missing the NCAAs for the first time since the 1996-97 season, Izzo’s second year after taking over for Jud Heathcote.

After spending two weeks at No. 4 nationally in December, Michigan State started 2-7 in league play and was unranked by mid-January. Things got worse with a 30-point loss against No. 9 Iowa and then a loss at Purdue.

The Indiana, Illinois and Ohio State wins helped push the Spartans to 4-9 in Quadrant 1 games. Michigan State hosts the Hoosiers on Tuesday then closes with consecutive games against third-ranked Michigan.