PREVIEW: Michigan State and Mississippi State basketball prepare to square-off in opening game of March Madness

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Ethan Hunter

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – For 26 years, Michigan State basketball has been synonymous with the NCAA tournament.

While this team may have gone from preseason No. 4 in the AP poll to watching the Selection Sunday show with a bit of apprehension, being tabbed to participate again in the tournament makes even legendary head coach Tom Izzo giddy with excitement.

“Well, general comment is I’m excited to be here,” Izzo said. “When you go 26 times in a row, which is pretty neat and one of your first was here, makes it even neater.”

Michigan State (19-14, 10-10 Big Ten) is fresh off of a five-point loss to the No. 1 seed Purdue Boilermakers in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament, whereas MSU’s opponent – Mississippi State (21-13, 8-10 SEC) – is coming off of a close loss to the eventual SEC tournament champions in the semifinal round of the SEC tournament.

For Michigan State, its position as a lower-seeded team – this year in the No. 9 position – is not unfamiliar territory whatsoever.

“I’ve been a one-seed and two-seed and been beat by a 15. I’ve been a very high seed and been beaten early. I’ve been a low-seed and gone to a Final Four,” Izzo said. “I’m taking it one weekend at a time because that is where our program is at, but you have to win the first game to play the second one.”

As for the MSU from down south, Mississippi State returns to the big dance as a No. 8 seed, the second consecutive tournament appearance for Mississippi State under head coach Chris Jans. Led by star freshman guard Josh Hubbard, who averages 17.1 points per game, Mississippi State comes into Charlotte hungry and ready to play after falling short in the First Four last season in Dayton.

“I’m really excited,” Hubbard said. “Definitely a surreal moment. As a little kid, you dream of moments like [March Madness]. We all deserve this moment. We all put in a lot of work. Coach Jans deserves it too. [Jans] instilled a lot of the great things in us.”

Mississippi State prides itself on rebounding and physicality, something that Michigan State will need to match and defend well in order to survive and advance.

As for Michigan State, reliable and consistent shooting from guards such as junior Jaden Akins and graduate Tyson Walker will be of substance for the Spartans if they are to move on to the Round of 32.

The consistency replicated year in and year out from Tom Izzo and the Spartans is marveled at by college basketball fans nationwide. Moving on to the second round, much less the second weekend is part of the expectations that being a highly touted brand in college basketball will, for lack of a better term, allow the team and fanbase to have.

“From an early age in my formative years as a college basketball coach, [Tom Izzo and Michigan State] was probably the person and program I looked up to the most,” Jans said. “It’s a privilege to be able to get a chance to share the floor with him and to compete against him.”

Ethan Hunter

The clock is ticking down to the start of March Madness, and Michigan State and Mississippi State will be the first two teams to tip off the field of 64 on Thursday at 12:15 pm.

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