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Michigan State basketball: What’s it like missing the NCAA Tournament?

It’s been a while.



Michigan State basketball
© Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been 26 years since Michigan State basketball missed the NCAA Tournament. What’s it like to miss the field?

March 9, 1997.

This date may not stick out in many people’s minds, but it holds significance to Michigan State basketball. That is the last Selection Sunday that did not feature the Spartans in the bracket.

On Sunday night, the 2023 bracket was released, and the Tom Izzo-led Spartans will open the NCAA Tournament on Friday afternoon at 12:15 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio. MSU (19-12) earned the seventh-seed in the East Region, and will take on the 10th-seeded USC Trojans (22-10).

This will be the 25th consecutive NCAA Tournament that the Spartans are a part of, the second-longest streak all-time behind only Kansas’ current 33-year streak. While the Jayhawks’ streak spans the coaching tenures of Roy Williams and Bill Self, all 25 appearances for MSU have come under the guidance of Izzo. With this 25th straight appearance, Izzo now owns the NCAA record for consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances for a head coach.

Back in 1997 though, the second-year coach (Izzo) watched as his 16-11 team was not included in the bracket and eventually went 1-1 in the NIT. This was back before Izzo adopted the “anybody, anyplace, anytime” mentality of scheduling non-conference games. The 1996-97 Spartans went 7-1 before Big Ten play started, but only one of those games was versus a power conference opponent. The one loss came in triple-overtime on the road to Detroit Mercy. The team did manage five victories in conference play over eventual tournament teams.

That season was also notable for two Big Ten programs being forced to vacate all of their wins from the season. In the final standings, Minnesota stood above the rest by four games at 16-2 and made a run to the Final Four. All of their 31 wins had to be vacated as a result of an academic fraud scandal in which an academic counseling office manager did coursework for at least 20 Gopher basketball players dating back to 1993.

Michigan finished the season in a three-way tie for sixth place in the Big Ten along with Michigan State and Indiana. The Hoosiers were given a spot in the NCAA Tournament, while the Spartans and Wolverines headed to the NIT, which Michigan eventually won and later vacated due to the Ed Martin scandal of improper benefits to players and potential recruits.

The 1997 NCAA Tournament ended with an Arizona Wildcats national championship, defeating the Kentucky Wildcats. That Arizona team became the only school to defeat three No. 1 seeds on its way to a title, a feat nearly replicated by MSU in 2009 before a title game loss to North Carolina.

There are six active Division 1 coaches who were coaching in the 1997 tournament, none with their current teams. In fact, all six had at least one other stop between their 1997 school and their 2023 school. Four of those six coaches are also dancing this March.

To give you more perspective on just how long it has been since Michigan State basketball has missed the NCAA Tournament, the No. 1 song in America on March 9, 1997 was ‘Wannabe’ by The Spice Girls, and the top movie in the country was Private Parts starring Howard Stern. The average price of a gallon of gasoline was $1.25.

March 9, 1997 is also the date that legendary rapper the Notorious B.I.G. was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in Los Angeles.

We are truly spoiled as a fanbase.