CHICAGO — The opponent on this day was Ohio State, but the teams Michigan State will fight against most furiously as the Big Ten Tournament advances actually were eliminated before the Spartans began competing.Illinois was the last team to lose in Thursday’s second round. Indiana was the first. They are responsible for half of the defeats on the Spartans’ resume, and it is those games that likely will keep Michigan State from claiming a No. 1 seed in the 2019 NCAA Tournament. The Spartans also did not have good fortune in their nonconference schedule. They entered a tournament in Las Vegas loaded with big names, but their opponents in that event, UCLA and Texas, finished with a combined 33-32 record. North Carolina was in that field, and the Tar Heels tied for the ACC title. But they stumbled against UT and Michigan State missed the chance to play them.A championship-game shot at Michigan or Purdue in this tournament would provide the opportunity for another high-quality victory. Whether that comes too late is for the committee to decide.“We try to make it simple. We kind of just want to take every game to get better, not put too much pressure on ourselves,” center Xavier Tillman told SN. “And think, ‘OK, this has to prepare us for the championship.’ If we make a mistake, we want to go back and watch it, break it down and see how we can fix it.” MORE: Sporting News’ March Madness CenterAs long as the word “likely” is embedded in that sentence, however, Michigan State will attempt to continue its climb. The culture coach Tom Izzo has created through a quarter-century and now — yes, now, on this day — 600 victories will permit no course other than the one toward excellence.“Coach Izzo doesn’t hold back on that,” assistant coach Dane Fife told Sporting News. “Everything is geared to winning a championship, and getting better.”The 77-70 margin of MSU’s victory on Friday at the United Center makes it seem this was a struggle, but the lead was as many as 21 points before Ohio State put on an ornamental rally in the final minutes. MSU got 18 points and five assists from All-America point guard Cassius Winston, but perhaps more important to the goal of surviving through this weekend were the 14 point and 18 minutes delivered by freshman backup point guard Foster Loyer, both of those figures career bests.“This was our goal at the beginning of the year. We set out to win a Big Ten championship and a tournament championship,” senior forward Kenny Goins told SN. “We accomplished one goal, but we’re not done yet. We’ll keep pressing for that second title.”He said the question of their NCAA seed comes up “a little bit, but right now we’re just focused on getting this title.”The Spartans know what they let slip in the two Indiana games and their road trip to Illinois. Fortunately for them, it was not the Big Ten regular-season championship, which they coveted and were able to claim by completing a sweep of rival Michigan on the final weekend.But the best team in the nation’s best league fell to teams that probably (Indiana) and definitely (Illinois) won’t make the NCAA field. Part of that equation is the Big Ten is the best league because it is the deepest league. Even the teams that finished ninth and 11th were capable of defeating quality opposition.MORE: Top 80 upsets in March Madness historyThe Spartans could have done better and probably should have done better. But look at what they did.Here are the No. 1 seed candidates broken down by Quadrant 1 victories…12: Michigan State, Virginia10: North Carolina, Kentucky9: Duke7: Tennessee4: Gonzaga…and by Quadrant 1 and 2 combined:17: Michigan State, North Carolina15: Duke, Kentucky14: Virginia13: Tennessee10: GonzagaFour of MSU’s victories were against opponents ranked in the NET top 20. Virginia had three entering its ACC semifinal game against Florida State, which is ranked 19th.MORE: WIth Winston, Big Ten was always MSU’s to loseMichigan State has the disadvantage of playing in a league whose tournament championship game is scheduled for Sunday afternoon. It is difficult for the selection committee to factor those results into its seeding, except perhaps in the case of two teams whose seed lines could be interchangeable. The Big Ten doesn’t have another clear No. 1 seed candidate.