DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - It seems as though coach Tom Izzo has Michigan State poised to make a Final Four run nearly every year.
The Spartans need to focus on surviving the first weekend this time around. It has been four years since Michigan State (28-6) made it to the Sweet Sixteen, the longest such drought of the Izzo era.
The Spartans were stunned by 15th-seeded Middle Tennessee State in the opening round in 2016 before a pair of second-round losses: blown out by top-seeded Kansas two years ago and knocked off by 11th-seeded Syracuse last year.
But this version of Michigan State, seeded second in the East Region, looks poised for big things over the next few weeks.
The Spartans, who open NCAA Tournament play on Thursday against No. 15 Bradley (20-14), won a share of the Big Ten title and followed that up by winning the league tournament, besting rival Michigan 65-60 in the championship game. Michigan State has one of the best point guards in the country in Big Ten Player of the Year Cassius Winston, and he's surrounded by a strong supporting cast of veterans like Nick Ward, Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins.
Still, three straight years of packing for home in the first weekend has Michigan State wary. The Spartans promise they are not overlooking Bradley, which advanced after rallying from 18 points down to beat Northern Iowa in the biggest comeback in Missouri Valley title game history.
"They're going to play their best, you know? They're going to fight the whole time and we've got to be ready, you know?" Winston said. "We can't be lackadaisical, anything like that. We've got to come out and play with energy and come out and play with heart."
As the East Region opens play on Thursday, Louisville faces Minnesota in Des Moines and Jacksonville, Florida, is the site for LSU vs. Yale and Maryland against Belmont.