The Wolverines began the 2021-22 campaign ranked in the top 10 but have tumbled out of the rankings while the Spartans have climbed into and continuously up the top 25.
At 12-2 and 3-0 in the Big Ten, MSU is starting to build a solid postseason resume. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has taken notice this week, projecting the Spartans as a No. 2 seed in the 2022 NCAA tournament.
UCLA, Purdue and Arizona were the other two seeds. Baylor was the top overall seed.
Lunardi, the longtime college basketball analyst, put an NCAA-high eight Big Ten squads in his 68-spot field, but one notable team was missing: Michigan.
There's plenty of time for Michigan and MSU to build better resumes but here we breakdown why Lunardi may have made these choices now:
Why Michigan State is ranked so high
MSU barely sneaked into the 2021 tournament, extending Tom Izzo's streak of 23 straight seasons making the Big Dance. A team light on offense lost its leading scorer, rebounder and assist man — Aaron Henry at 15.4/5.6/3.6, respectively — and asked a freshman (Max Christie) and a transfer (Tyson Walker) to shoulder more of the load in 2021-22.
Izzo then received great contributions from Marcus Bingham Jr. and Gabe Brown. Bingham, now MSU's top post after a reserve role a year ago, has nearly doubled his minutes to 22 a game and increased his scoring from 3.5 points to 11.0 points per game. Brown, a hyperathletic wing who can shoot the 3, is averaging nine more minutes a game (up to 29.1) and doubled his scoring from 7.2 points per game to 14.6.
Although MSU lost its top two scorers (Henry and Joshua Langford) who ended their college careers and its fourth-leading scorer (Rocket Watts) to a transfer, an ensemble cast has replaced that production. Malik Hall has raised his scoring by five points per game with incredible efficiency. Christie has been the conference's freshman of the week for his occasional scoring outbursts and consistent strong defense.
Walker has matched that defensive effort while commanding the offense to the tune of 5.2 assists per game. He's struggled from 2-point range but is shooting 54.5% from 3.
Another aspect working in MSU's favor: Its few losses have come to Kansas and Baylor, teams that could end up as No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Why Michigan may miss out on tournament
The 7-6 Wolverines, which won the Big Ten last year and went to the Elite Eight, were placed among the first four teams out. They're 1-2 in the conference, with Rutgers pulling away for its first win Tuesday over U-M in 15 all-time meetings. The only league win was over lowly Nebraska.
Other teams in the first four out were Memphis, Belmont and St. Bonaventure.
UCF — after defeating Michigan on Thursday — was the last team in.
Sophomore center Hunter Dickinson (16.1 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game) seems headed for another all-conference selection. But U-M is feeling the loss two players (Franz Wagner and Chaundee Brown) who have seen NBA action as rookies this season and two other starters (Isaiah Livers and Mike Smith) from last year's team.
After having five players average 9.5 points a game or more last season, Michigan has just three such players this season. And one of them, freshman Caleb Houstan, is struggling with his shooting, putting up 9.5 ppg on 36.4% shoot from the field and 31.3% from 3-point range.
Transfer DeVante' Jones has been efficient (46.3% from the field, 45.8% from 3) and leads the team in assists per game (3.8) but is averaging just 7.5 points per game; not quite filling the void Smith left.
To make matters worse, Michigan was missing three rotation players and two others in the Rutgers loss. But U-M this weekend has a chance to build its resume, and MSU has a chance to establish in-state dominance, when the Spartans and Wolverines meet Saturday in Ann Arbor.
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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Where Michigan State, Michigan land in 2022 tourney projection