The quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament were a breeze for Wisconsin and Michigan State. After a couple of close battles in the morning session Friday, Wisconsin clobbered Minnesota, a team they lost to in the regular season, 83-57, and Michigan State handily defeated Northwestern 67-51. The Spartans and Badgers will tangle Saturday afternoon for a chance at the Big Ten title.
In the one matchup between these squads this season, Wisconsin battled their way to a 60-58 victory at the Kohl Center. Traevon Jackson hit a jumper with 2.1 seconds left to win it for the Badgers. Wisconsin spread out the scoring, per usual, in the victory with four guys in double figures. Nigel Hayes led the way with 14 points. Michigan State struggled shooting the rock, particularly from deep, where they went 5-19. However, the Spartans were without Keith Appling and Branden Dawson at the time.
The Badgers finished the regular season off hot, winning eight straight before losing at Nebraska in the regular season finale. They bounced back quickly against Minnesota in the quarterfinals of the BTT. They ran the Gophers out of the gym with a 26-point victory. Ben Brust dropped a career high 29 points. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig combined for 29 as Koenig went a perfect 4-of-4 from deep. The Badgers made the Gophers' defense look silly with some great ball movement on offense, helping them go 30-55 from the floor with 16 assists and just seven turnovers.
Michigan State, on the other hand, has stumbled through the latter portion of their schedule, going 6-7 in their last 13 games. The Spartans did seem to get back on track a little bit against Northwestern. Branden Dawson was himself again, scoring 16 points and grabbing 9 rebounds. Adreian Payne had a slow day, but Gary Harris had a strong game. It was more of a blowout than the score says. MSU was even up 64-40 at one point.
In a Big Ten season that has been packed with amazing basketball games, it's tough for even the big match ups to live up to the hype. Michigan State and Wisconsin should do just that though. Michigan State is trying to prove that the second half of their season isn't representative of the team assembled on the court now. Going into this one, Joe Lunardi of ESPN has MSU as a five seed. A couple of wins and another Big Ten tournament championship could bump them up to a 3 seed and position the healthy Spartans to make a run in the NCAA tournament.
The Badgers are looking to solidify themselves as a 2 seed in the NCAA bracket. Kansas and Duke, two of Lunardi's other 2 seeds, both struggled Friday, Kansas losing to Iowa State and Duke barely getting by Clemson. A win against MSU would certainly lock up a 2 seed for the Badgers and give them an outside chance at nabbing a 1 seed.
While Wisconsin is the hot team, the match ups on the floor seem to favor MSU. The Badgers could barely beat the Spartans at home when Appling and Dawson were both out. The Spartans are fully healthy once again and are getting on the boards. They out-rebounded Northwestern 40-24. Appling and Adreian Payne did look a bit off their games however, combining for just 11 points. No way they beat Wisconsin without a much better day from the senior leaders. It's hard to go agains the Badgers with how incredibly efficient they were against Minnesota, but they certainly won't have their way like that against the Spartan defense.
This one will come down to rebounding and defense. It's going to be about maintaining possession, forcing turnovers, and making the other team take difficult shots. It's the stars of the Big Ten: Payne, Harris, Appling, Dekker, Kaminsky. They are going to come to play, so the little things are going to count. Michigan State is going to get it done in crunch time. It's time for them to make up for a season of injuries and dismay. Spartans 77, Badgers 74.