Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, March 17, 2015

Michigan State is back in the NCAA tournament for the 18th straight season, tying the Big Ten record (Indiana, 1986-2003).

Tom Izzo and the Spartans, the No. 7 seed in the East, draw No. 10 Georgia in their opening game Friday.

Get my Michigan State NCAA tourney capsule below.


NO. 7 MICHIGAN STATE vs. No. 10 Georgia, Friday, Charlotte

Tom Izzo NCAA record: 42-16. Won national title in 2000; reached Final Four in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2009, 2010

Last tourney appearance: 2014, lost to eventual national champ UConn in regional final

Best-case scenario: Final Four. The Spartans arrive on the doorstep of the Big Dance playing some of their best hoops of the season. That has made them a trendy pick among prognosticators to possibly make a bit of a run. To wit: Michigan State has won 10 of its last 14 games, including a push to the Big Ten title game. And to think: There was a point in time when some wondered if the Spartans would make the NCAA tourney. This isn?t one of Tom Izzo?s best teams, but it has a mojo about it. And, let's face it, Izzo's teams save their best for March. That said, beating No. 2 Virginia in the third round could be a tall order.

Key player: It?s Branden Dawson, the linebacker-masquerading-as-a-power-forward. He looks dialed in for March, coming off a sterling effort in the Big Ten tourney that saw him tally 14, 17 and 16 points-to go along with an aggregate 23 rebounds. Dawson is averaging 12 points and 9.1 rebounds. But it?s the energy that the 6-6 senior has been providing of late that helps fuel this team. Dawson needs to keep at it, as his fire and desire have been issues on occasion this season. Izzo knows what he?ll get from Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine. Dawson needs to fall into that same consistent line.

Key number: 62.7. That?s Michigan State?s free-throw percentage. And, it?s the worst in the Big Ten. You can count on the Spartans playing some close games during March Madness. And that means MSU?s propensity to clank freebies could prove to be the undoing of this team. For what it's worth, the Spartans did go a perfect 9-of-9 from the line in the Big Ten tourney title game.

Know Georgia: All five of the starters average double-figure points, so there?s balance. This also is a stout defensive team led by coach Mark Fox, who had success at Nevada before assuming command in Athens. The Bulldogs are adept at getting to the free-throw line. Georgia needs G Kenny Gaines to be OK after missing the final SEC tourney game with a foot issue; he?s the team?s second-leading scorer and also boosts UGA?s defensive presence. This team played Kentucky tough a few weeks ago, so it won?t be intimidated by Michigan State.

About Tom Dienhart senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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