For the first time since 2019, the Spartans will likely be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan State women’s basketball has all but secured their place in the NCAA Tournament after their win over No. 9 Indiana in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament gave the Spartans the marquee win they needed for their resume.
For Michigan State head coach Suzy Merchant, she’s known all along what her squad could be.
“We have a really positive offensive efficiency rating,” Merchant said. “I think we're top 10 in the country in assists, we share the ball. We run, our pace is good, we have multiple scorers, we have an inside-outside game. We’ve played a great schedule, I don’t know what our NET was, I think it’s in the thirties now, so we’re an NCAA Tournament team. I don’t know if you have to make a pitch for that, but I do think our kids’ body of work has been good over the course of the year.”
The Spartans are currently ranked 39th in the NCAA’s evaluation tool for potential NCAA tourney teams. With no bad losses on the resume and their top 10 win over Indiana last week, Michigan State is currently projected as a nine seed by ESPN’s Charlie Creme.
The Spartans have what it takes to be a pesky tournament team come tournament time despite their semifinal loss to Iowa with an All-Big Ten guard Nia Clouden and a talented cast with great chemistry around her. Not only that, but they’re playing some of their best basketball of the year at the right time.
“I think we’re really playing well together,” Clouden said. “We’re trusting each other and we’re feeding off of each other’s energy. I think that’s where we kind of fell short today (Big Ten Tournament). Our energy wasn’t as high and we were a little tired. I think that’s the main thing we can carry into the tournament, just playing off of each other and having each other’s back.”
However, the issue for the Spartans all year long has been finding offensive consistency. Bad quarters on offense were often the achilles heel for Michigan State and coach Merchant throughout the season.
One of the main people Merchant will look toward is Alyza Winston, who in their first two Big Ten Tournament matchups came up big, scoring 23 points against Penn State and 13 against Indiana.
However, in their loss to Iowa, a team with one of the best offenses in college basketball, Winston shot 2-13 from the floor for only four points. Winston, along with the rest of the squad, will have to give their best effort each game to make any kind of run in the NCAA Tournament in Texas.
“I think the consistency of our scorers need to be there,” Merchant said. “When we don’t get that consistency, I think you can see where it can be a little bit more of a struggle for us, less of a flow.”
Michigan State will also be looking to get healthy before their next game with Julia Ayrault (concussion) and Tory Ozment (achilles strain) each missing games in the Big Ten Tournament along with multiple Spartans playing through injuries as of now.
“We left here pretty banged up, to be honest,” Merchant said postgame. “My starting four-man couldn’t play today coming into the tournament, we lost the person that was playing that four spot. So I moved my three to my four. We had a really bad position, we had some kids that were banged up from the game before. Not being an excuse, I think what you do is you learn to grow up and find other people and find other ways.”
The Spartans will find out their next matchup on Monday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN for Selection Monday.
From there on, each and every day will be life and death for Michigan State’s season.
“I just think that whole survive and advance mentality, everyone talks about that, but when you’re actually an athlete and you go out there in the game and if you don’t perform, you’re going home,” Merchant said. “This next one when you don’t perform, you’re going home for the rest of the year, it’s over.”
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