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Tom Izzo’s streak lives on.
Michigan State basketball earned its 23rd consecutive NCAA tournament berth Sunday as the No. 11 seed in the East Region, but will face No. 11 seed UCLA (17-9) in a First Four matchup Thursday in Indianapolis. The winner will face No. 6 seed BYU (20-6) in the first round Saturday. The winner of that game will meet 3-seed Texas or 14-seed Abilene Christian in the second round Monday.
Michigan is the No. 1 seed in the region, meaning the Spartans and Wolverines would meet in the Elite Eight if both continue to win. The rivals split the two meetings this season, March 4 and 7, with the home team winning each time.
This is the lowest seed the Spartans have received in 33 previous NCAA tournament appearances. Their previous lowest was a No. 10 three times (1975, 2002 and 2011). MSU lost its first-round game each of those years.
With Duke not making the tournament, the Spartans’ March Madness streak becomes the nation’s second-longest behind Kansas (31). Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski’s run of 24 straight appearances ends, and Izzo now holds the longest active NCAA streak for a coach in Division I. MSU’s Hall of Famer ties North Carolina’s Dean Smith (23) for the second-longest streak for a coach at one school, one behind Krzyzewski.
One month ago, making the NCAA tournament seemed unlikely for the Spartans. After a 6-0 nonconference start to the season that included a win at Duke and over Notre Dame, they dropped to 4-9 in the Big Ten with a Feb. 16 loss at Purdue, then four days later fell behind by 13 points in the first half at Indiana.
However, Izzo reconfigured his lineup to go small and the team rallied to victory over the Hoosiers. Izzo used that undersized look to shock No. 4 Illinois and No. 5 Ohio State in three days.
Then after losing at Maryland on Feb. 28 and beating Indiana at home March 2, MSU was blasted by 19 points at Michigan on March 4. Three days later, in the regular-season finale at Breslin Center, MSU held off the Wolverines for their fifth win in seven games to finish 9-11 in the brutal Big Ten.
But the Spartans blew a 12-point first-half lead against the Terrapins in Thursday’s Big Ten tournament, going cold and turning the ball over the final 30 minutes en route to a 68-57 loss that sends them into the NCAAs with a 15-12 record.
Junior swingman Aaron Henry, an Indianapolis native, leads the Spartans with 15.3 points per game and adds 5.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks. Junior forward Joey Hauser is tied with Henry for the rebounding lead at 5.7 and is second at 9.7 points.
Izzo is 51-21 in the NCAA tournament with eight Final Four appearances, the most recent in 2019, and the 2000 national championship.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball in NCAA tournament, faces UCLA in First Four