By LARRY LAGE, Associated Press
Michigan State started the season unranked and will end it as the No. 1 seed in the West Region, hoping for another Tom Izzo-led NCAA tournament run.
The Spartans will begin close to home, playing Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against 16th-seeded Long Island University-Brooklyn. If they avoid an upset, the winner of the Memphis-Saint Louis awaits in the next game.
The West semifinals will be played in Phoenix, where Michigan State might be joined by No. 2 Missouri, third-seeded Marquette and No. 4 Louisville with one team earning a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans.
If Izzo doesn't help the Spartans win at least four times, that would be a first for him as the coach of a top-seeded team. He has had a No. 1 seed three times previously and ended up in the Final Four each of those times.
The Spartans earned top billing by beating Ohio State 68-64 Sunday for their first Big Ten tournament title since 2000, the year they were seeded first and went on to win the national title. They were also top-seeded teams in 1999 and 2001, when they lost in the semifinals. Michigan State is in the NCAA tournament for the 15th straight year.
Just Kansas (22) and Duke (17) have longer active streaks.
The Spartans barely earned an NCAA tournament berth last year and had to sweat it out during the selection show, seeing most of the 68-team field announced before finally finding out they were a 10th-seeded team.
This time, they had snipped down nets in Indianapolis after beating the Buckeyes — a week after losing the regular-season finale to them in East Lansing to fall into a three-way tie for the Big Ten title — when the top seeds were revealed. Michigan State was the only No. 1 seed to win its conference tournament.
Expectations were relatively low for the Spartans this season because Izzo had just two players who averaged double digits in minutes last season. They started with losses to North Carolina on an aircraft carrier in San Diego and against Duke in New York, then won 15 straight, including at Gonzaga, against Indiana and at Wisconsin.
The Spartans then lost three of five, but bounced back with a seven-game winning streak that earned a piece of the Big Ten title that they ended up sharing by closing the regular season with two straight losses.
Versatile forward Draymond Green won Big Ten player of the year honors and had plenty of support on a deep team that plays in-your-face defense and relentlessly rebounds as well as any of Izzo's teams have in a decade.
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