MILWAUKEE (AP) -- For Marquette coach Tom Crean, it was proof that the NCAA selection committee has a wicked sense of humor: a first-round matchup with Michigan State and his mentor, Spartans coach Tom Izzo.
The Number 18-ranked Golden Eagles open tournament play Thursday against the Spartans in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
Crean began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State during the 1989-90 season, when Izzo was an assistant to Spartans coach Jud Heathcote.
Marquette is seeded eighth - and Michigan State is a nine-seed.
Guard Jerel McNeal has missed Marquette's last three games with a thumb injury.
Crean said he's not optimistic that McNeal will be available for the first round.
If the Golden Eagles win Thursday, they'll face the winner of the matchup between Number-One seed North Carolina and Number-16 seed Eastern Kentucky.