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No. 15 Middle Tennessee State upsets No. 2 Michigan State

Spartans coach Tom Izzo and guard Denzel Valentine reflect on the season and the first round loss to Middle Tennessee State.

Tom Izzo’s March Magic wasn’t enough to save the Spartans on Friday.

No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State landed the first shocker of the NCAA tournament on Friday, as the Blue Raiders knocked off No. 2 Michigan State, 90-81.

And here’s the incredible part: MTSU not only never trailed, they beat Michigan State at their own game. They got the big offensive rebounds. They came up with every key loose ball. They shot 11-for-19 from three and answered every Michigan State surge with a three or an and-one. They were the tougher team, both physically and mentally, and as a result, Kermit Davis is headed to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in his career.

That’s exactly the formula that Tom Izzo has used for years.

Reggie Upshaw led five MTSU players in double-figures with 21 points in what may arguably be the biggest upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.

I don’t think that’s crazy to say. There has never been a No. 16 seed to win an NCAA tournament game and Middle Tennessee is just the eighth No. 15 seed to win a game, but the Spartans were considered by many to not only be the favorite to make it out of the Midwest region but the favorite to win the National Title.

I had them winning in my bracket. Every one of my colleagues had the Spartans winning. The consensus was that the favorite to win this season was either Michigan State or Kansas.

Has there ever been a tournament favorite to lose in the first round of the Big Dance?

The answer is no. A No. 1 seed has never lost in the first round, and these are the seven No. 2 seeds to get upset in their first game of the Big Dance:

  • In 2013, Georgetown lost to FGCU in the first round as the Eagles made a run to the Sweet 16. Louisville was the favorite to win that season, and they did.
  • In 2012, both Duke and Missouri lost in the first round, to Lehigh and Norfolk State, respectively. That was the year that Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky went 38-2 and won the national title.
  • Iowa State lost to Hampton in 2001, a year that Duke had Jay Williams, Shane Battier and Mike Dunleavy and Stanford entered the NCAA tournament with just two losses.
  • In 1997, when South Carolina lost to Coppin State, Roy Williams had a 32-1 Kansas team, Rick Majerus was 26-3 with Andre Miller and Keith Van Horn at Utah and Rick Pitino was 30-4 with the reigning national champs, a roster that Tubby Smith would lead to a national title the next season.
  • Arizona lost to Santa Clara in 1993, but that was the same season that the Fab Five were sophomores and a No. 1 seed one year after they went to the national title game as a No. 6 seed. Dean Smith won the title that year with a UNC team that was a No. 1 seed and an ACC champion as well.
  • When Syracuse lost to Richmond in 1991, UNLV was still undefeated and completely unaware that they were going to get beaten by Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley in the Final Four.

So yes, this is the first time that a tournament favorite has lost in the first round.

But there’s more to it than that.

Tom Izzo is Mr. March. He wins in March. He lands the upsets, he doesn’t get upset. And that’s before you consider the fact that he has the National Player of the Year on his roster in Denzel Valentine.

“The better team won today,” Izzo said after the game, which should tell you just how impressive this win is.

Because this was the best team that Tom Izzo has had since he won the 2000 national title.