Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Michigan St Spartans Pick & Prediction MARCH 21st 2024

CHARLOTTE — It’s time for Michigan State to prove that it really can be one of the best teams in the country.

The Spartans, who have largely fallen short of expectations, have another chance by opening the NCAA Tournament against Mississippi State in a first-round game in the West Region on Thursday afternoon.

“I feel like everybody knows that we underachieved,” Michigan State graduate forward Malik Hall said. “We all know it, we see it all the time, people say it all the time, we know what situation we put ourselves in but we also know that we could completely right that situation by doing what we’ve got to do.”

The winner could meet top-seeded North Carolina (27-7), which will face either Howard or Wagner in Thursday’s second game.

Ninth-seeded Michigan State (19-14) is in the NCAA Tournament for a Big Ten Conference-record 26th consecutive season in which it has been held, although it hasn’t all been smooth the past few months.

“It has not been the year I was hoping it would be, yet we’re three, four wins (away from) and we could be a 5 or 6 seed,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “That’s how tough it is right now. … I’m just happy we’re in and get an opportunity to keep playing. I’m hoping we can use the experience we’ve had to put some things together and see where it takes us.”

Eighth-seeded Mississippi State (21-13) finished in ninth place in the Southeastern Conference following the regular season before advancing to the conference tournament semifinals. That included knocking off Tennessee to mark one of the Bulldogs’ three victories against Top 10 teams this season.

“This is my last go-around, so there’s no turning back for me,” Mississippi State graduate forward D.J. Jeffries said.

This will be the first meeting between the Bulldogs and Spartans in 51 years. Michigan State leads 3-0 in the all-time series.

Michigan State was a Top 10 team when the season began before it tumbled out of the rankings. Still, there’s a sense that this group has been through enough that it should be well prepared.

“They are battle tested and some of the battles we lost,” Izzo said of his players. “Some of the battles, we were right there. Just the thought of a physical game, we just played a football game on hardwood (vs. Purdue in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals), I’m not concerned about that.”

In many ways, the Spartans haven’t lost track of their bigger goals.

“We still have the possibility of being national champions in my eyes,” Hall said. “If we’re all clicking or on the same page and we’re all doing what we’re supposed to offensively and defensively, I think everybody is scared in my eyes.”

The Spartans expect a tussle with Mississippi State. Izzo was updated by coaching colleagues. He was told “‘very tough team’ and ‘bring your hard hat,'” he said.

The Bulldogs played a First Four game last season, when they lost 60-59 to Pitt. Senior Shakeel Moore, a transfer from North Carolina State, will be back playing in his home state.

Mississippi State is in the tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008 and 2009.

“We’ve been playing better,” Bulldogs coach Chris Jans said. “We’ve got a confident group. I think our confidence is as high as it has been all season long.”

–Bob Sutton, Field Level Media

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