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Merchant embraces time off before NCAA tournament

March 12, 2013

MSU women’s basketball head coach Suzy Merchant discusses the Big Ten Tournament and the team’s preparations for the NCAA Tournament.

Photo by Stephen Brooks | The State News

The MSU women’s basketball team won’t learn its next opponent until shortly after 7 p.m. Monday when the NCAA Tournament selection show kicks off on ESPN.

In the meantime, head coach Suzy Merchant said she’s working to strike a balance between keeping MSU’s edge and momentum from the Big Ten Tournament alive, while allowing a weary team proper time to rest.

“We’re going to get back in the gym and get ready and move on,” Merchant said at her Tuesday press conference. In her opening statement, the coach acknowledged that she’s “still hanging on” to the disappointment of the loss to Purdue in the tournament championship.

“It’s our opportunity to kind of have another chance, another go at it. At least their season didn’t end that way, so that’s a positive thing.”

Merchant said she feels better about the plan her and her staff have for the coming days in preparation for the NCAA Tournament than in seasons past. It can be difficult, though, having a week to prepare for an unknown opponent that, in all likelihood, MSU hasn’t seen this year.

“Obviously we need to work on some things from the offensive side of the ball and continue to develop defensively,” she said. “I think the positive thing about this layoff is that you really can focus on yourselves. But we’re going to move forward, we’re going to get after it.”

Projection rejection
ESPN.com analyst Charlie Creme’s latest NCAA Tournament projection has MSU as a No. 8-seed headed to Waco, Texasto meet No. 9-seed Princeton.

Merchant politely questioned the accuracy of such predictions, and with the team’s ratings percentage index, or RPI, of 22 in the latest rankings from the NCAA, she might be correct in assuming MSU’s real seeding will be higher.

“It’s hard to predict, I mean you don’t sit in those rooms. I think the positive thing is we’ve got to let what we’ve accomplished do the talking,” she said.

Lucky seven
Wherever the Spartans wind up in the NCAA bracket, they’ll head into the tournament with a seven-man playing rotation.

Merchant announced that redshirt freshman forward Akyah Taylor is done for the remainder of the season with a broken bone in her face near her eye after the game against Michigan in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament. Taylor hit the deck hard after colliding with sophomore center Jasmine Hines midair and was immediately walked to the locker room area.

“She’s getting double vision, she may have to have surgery at this point. So we’re down even more now in numbers,” Merchant said.

Taylor has averaged less than eight minutes per game this season, but her availability gave MSU valuable flexibility in its already short-handed rotation. She substituted in at the small and power forward positions, which led to more breaks for the other players.

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