It seems as if 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 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 Thursday against No. 15 Bradley (20-14) in Des Moines, 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 such as Nick Ward, Matt McQuaid and Kenny Goins.
Still, three consecutive 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."
No. 15 seed Montana (26-8) has the full attention of Michigan coach John Beilein. The teams are meeting in the first round for the second consecutive year, this time in the West Region opener in Des Moines on Thursday.
Michigan (28-6) won 61-47 in 2018, but the game was not without some drama.
"I hope it doesn't go the way it did last year," he said. "They were ahead of us 10-0 to start the game, and they have a lot of guys back. We are a little brand-new to playing in this type of game. They know Montana is even better than they were last year."
The Grizzlies, who won the Big Sky regular-season title and tournament, are 15-point underdogs.
"We've had a few games where the bull's-eye wasn't on our backs, and those were the ones that our guys performed best at, whether we were on the road or we found ourselves in second or third in the standings and we were trying to get back to the top," Montana coach Travis DeCuire said. "We played with a high level of desperation. I think for a rematch our guys will go into the game the same way."
Third-seeded Purdue is built around the playmaking and scoring of guard Carsen Edwards, and lately he has been missing a lot more than he has been making.
Heading into the Boilermakers' first-round matchup with Old Dominion in the South Region in Hartford, Conn., on Thursday, Edwards is six for his past 33 from three-point range. He has also been dealing with a back issue, but he downplayed it.
"I'm OK," the junior said. "Just taking it day by day, just trying to get treatment and things like that. I don't want it to be a big deal or anything like that."
Edwards averages 23 points.