MSU women's basketball draws date with No. 8 Arizona State in NCAA Tournament
On March 13, teams across the country waited for their names to appear in a bracket slot on ESPN. After going 9-7 during Big Ten conference play and wrapping up the regular season 21-11, MSU women’s basketball waited to be selected for the NCAA Tournament.
For 10 other Big Ten teams, their immediate futures lacked the appeal of the Big Dance.
However, the Spartans made it to the NCAA Tournament, selected as a No. 9 seed in the Stockton Region. The Spartans are slated to play No. 8 Arizona State in Columbia, S.C. on March 17.
It was a celebration for the Spartans when they found out their seed Monday evening. While some ladies on the team were happy to see their name on the screen, others seemed surprised their name was called so soon, as the Stockton Region was the second to be selected. Quickly after their celebration, the Spartans went right back to filling out their brackets to see who their competition would be.
“I’m excited, I’m excited to go down south,” senior guard Tori Jankoska said. “I haven’t watched much of Arizona State this year, I know I watched them a lot last year. They had a couple people that I knew from USA trials, but I’m excited to be in the tournament. It’s a blessing to be in.”
Head coach Suzy Merchant said she knew they were going to fall between an eight or nine seed for the tournament.
The main anticipation for her and her team was who and where they would play. Without having a set opponent this past week, practices have had high intensity.
This is the eighth time in nine years MSU has been chosen to play in the NCAA Tournament.
“You certainly want to be a team that is in the NCAA Tournament, you can’t win a national championship if you’re not in it,” Merchant said. “I think that’s certainly what we all aspire to, certainly here at Michigan State in every sport. I’m excited about the draw, excited about getting on a plane and going down there playing in South Carolina.”
The last and only time MSU made a Final Four was in 2005, which culminated in an appearance in the championship game.
This year’s team has a lot of moving pieces with a freshman starting forward and point guard, along with a transfer graduate student among the mix.
“We’re all pretty excited, a lot them didn’t really know exactly what it meant to get into the NCAA Tournament, I think,” Jankoska said. “You know the way we finished the season, we’re playing your best basketball right now, you know really good for us. Just to be able to give them that experience going forward is really big for our program.”
Last year during the tournament, MSU was unable to host during the second round and made the trip to Mississippi State to play.
It was a close game against the Bulldogs, but the Spartans failed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, falling 74-72. If the Spartans defeat Arizona State March 17, they will likely move on to play the No. 1 seed in Stockton, the South Carolina Gamecocks in the second round.
Merchant said every tournament is different, but playing in hostile environments is something she can take away from last year’s game.
“We played down there at Mississippi State and they have great crowd attendance,” Merchant said. “They were super excited, they love women’s basketball down there.”
In a similar vein to last year’s atmosphere, Merchant said she expects an effort rivaling Mississippi down in South Carolina.
“You’re going to have the same thing in South Carolina,” Merchant said. “That Gamecock nation is legit and real and they love Dawn and what she’s done down there and that team. We’ve played in extremely hostile environments and some of those kids who were on this roster and played in that game understand that and will be able to handle that.”