PREVIEW: Michigan State faces off against Kansas State for a coveted spot in the Elite Eight

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MSU Basketball Team Huddle

Jason Laplow

The Michigan State basketball team huddles during open practice on March 16.

After a successful weekend trip to Columbus, Ohio, Michigan State basketball will continue its March Madness run against Kansas State on Thursday in New York City.  

Spartan head coach Tom Izzo added two records to his résumé after this weekend. He now has 16 tournament wins as a lower seed against higher-seeded opponents, the most by a head coach in history. Izzo has also taken six trips to the Sweet Sixteen with a 5-seed or lower, also a new record. 

Kansas State, a 3-seed, bounced back from an early exit in the Big 12 tournament with an easy victory over 14-seed Montana State. The overlooked Kansas State team came into Sunday’s matchup against 6-seed Kentucky as three point underdogs. However, KSU won the battle of the Wildcats by a score of 75-69. 

The Spartans will need to continue the trend of holding opposing star point guards to slow-shooting nights if they want to advance. The MSU backcourt held USC guard Boogie Ellis to only six points and backed that up against Marquette, holding Big East Player of the Year Tyler Kolek to seven points and six turnovers. 

Kansas State’s Markquis Nowel may be the best player in the tournament so far. The 5’8” point guard out of Harlem has scored 44 points, 23 assists, and six steals in his first two tournament games as a Wildcat. 

In Jerome Tang’s first season as head coach of Kansas State, he has turned the program around extremely fast. Tang was hired after an underwhelming 2021-22 campaign for the Wildcats, in which they posted a sub-.500 winning percentage. The ex-Baylor assistant coach used the transfer portal to completely rebuild the roster. One notable transfer is Keyonte Johnson from Florida, who played his first college basketball game in two years this season after a medical incident in late 2020. 

After Indiana’s loss in the Round of 32, Michigan State is the only Big 10 program to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. This has continued the trend over the last few years of the Big 10 having the most bids while having underwhelming postseason success. The 2000 Michigan State team remains the last National Championship team to come out of the Big 10 this millennium. 

There are some New York City roots in this matchup at Madison Square Garden. Tyson Walker, the Spartans’ only New Yorker, mentioned he “owes Tom Izzo a pizza and a cab ride” during Sunday’s postgame press conference. 

Two of Kansas State’s starters, the aforementioned Markquis Nowell and Nae’Qwan Tomlin, are from Harlem. Tomlin has had a unique road to Division I basketball. The junior forward did not play any school-affiliated basketball as a high schooler due to academic issues, but attended junior college for three seasons, where he refined his skills and transferred to Kansas State. He has been an impact player in his first season with the squad. 

Despite only connecting on two three-pointers in 16 attempts on Sunday, Michigan State holds the eighth-best three-point percentage in college basketball. Kansas State is a poor three-point shooting team ranking 208th in the country, making beyond-the-arc shooting a possible area of the game where the Spartans can take advantage. 

The winner of this matchup will advance to the Elite Eight to play the winner of the Florida Atlantic-Tennessee game on Saturday. In this wide-open east region, Izzo has a phenomenal opportunity to lead the Spartans to his ninth Final Four in his historic 25th March Madness appearance.

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