Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Izzo upset with No. 10 seed in tourney

March 11, 2002
Head coach Tom Izzo speaks to his team following MSU's selection in the 2002 NCAA Tournament. The Spartans, who earned the No. 10 seed, will face No. 7 North Carolina State on Friday in Washington, D.C. —

As he learned his team would play as a No. 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament, MSU men’s basketball head coach Tom Izzo smiled sarcastically Sunday.

That smile quickly straightened as he turned to associate head coach Brian Gregory and said, “A 10 seed? A 10 seed?”

The Spartans will play seventh seeded North Carolina State in the East regional Friday at the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. The game is sold out.

The Wolfpack (22-10 overall, 9-7 Atlantic Coast Conference) come off two big games. They beat No. 2 Maryland on Saturday 86-82 in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament before falling to No. 3 Duke 96-61 in Sunday’s championship game.

Following the announcement of the Spartan-Wolfpack matchup, Izzo criticized the NCAA selection committee’s standards for not being consistent with his understanding of the standards from year to year. But said he wasn’t too upset with the seeding.

“I think I’m going to regret what I’m saying, sorta,” Izzo said. “I am going to get ripped for crying over spilled milk, but I’m kind of disappointed in the seed from the standpoint of what the rules of the game were set to be.”

The seeding made Izzo, who is known for scheduling the toughest possible opponents in the nation, question the relevance of the blueprint that got him to three consecutive Final Fours.

“What I would like to know is, what is the criteria?” Izzo said. “I think that is a fair question, because we could all act accordingly.

“It’s getting to be a very difficult job in basketball to decide what is right and what is wrong; who to recruit, who not to recruit; who to schedule, who not to schedule. It’s part of the game that is very confusing to me.”

Izzo was also miffed because the committee had said that injuries would be taken into account when team’s were seeded. Sophomore forward Adam Wolfe was lost for the season on Jan. 19, while sophomore point guard Marcus Taylor and junior forward Adam Ballinger were out for a combined six games.

“I’m not making excuses for injuries,” Izzo said. “But that’s supposed to be one of the rules that was set up, so I’m a little disappointed in that.”

Even though Ballinger was a little disappointed at the seeding, he had a positive outlook.

“We had some quality wins early, we made a run late,” Ballinger said. “Either way I kind of look at it as it’s the same as being the seventh seed. We’re playing a seventh seed, except it’s the opposite way. We’re in a decent region, we’re in a decent bracket.

“We’re just happy to be in there and go in there and show what we can do.”

Ballinger also said the seed could be used as motivation.

“We try to use everything we can, and maybe we can use that to our advantage going in, knowing we should have been higher,” Ballinger said.

MSU’s three freshman are just happy to be in the tournament, freshman guard Chris Hill said.

“For me, and being my first year and inexperienced, I’m excited to be a part of the tournament,” Hill said. “Regardless of what seed we’d be, we knew we’d be playing someone tough.”

One reason the freshmen are excited is because it was possible that MSU might not be invited to the Big Dance at all. Iowa, the No. 9 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, would have earned an automatic seed into the NCAA Tournament but lost in the championship game Sunday.

“If Iowa would have won, would the Spartans have been in?” Izzo said. “In my mind we could lose by 10 or win by 30 and we still deserve to be in.”

In addition to the Spartans, five other Big Ten teams made the cut.

Illinois and Ohio State earned No. 4 seeds in the Midwest and West, respectively. Indiana earned a No. 5 seed in the South and Wisconsin is the No. 8 seed in the East.

“I think the Big Ten, in general, got clobbered,” Izzo said.

Two of Izzo’s former assistants also made the tournament.

Stan Heath coaches No. 10 seed Kent State in the South, and Tom Cream leads No. 5 seed Marquette in the East.

While Izzo is disappointed at the selection committee, in some ways he reacted like his freshmen .

“On the other side of the coin, we’re very excited to go to Washington, D.C., and get the chance to play N.C. State,” Izzo said.

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