Now that the Big Ten Tournament is in the rearview mirror, it's time to prepare for the madness that is the Big Dance. Although the Indiana Hoosiers entered the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed, the Michigan State Spartans were considered the favorites to claim the championship thanks to the elevated coaching of Tom Izzo in March.
Izzo has a knack for getting the most out of his players in March, and this year was no different in the Big Ten. Michigan State's victory over the Boilermakers could very well have cemented themselves on the 1-seed line. Purdue is a program who could benefit from their towering post players and make a deep run themselves.
What did we learn about the two programs as the NCAA tournament quickly approaches? Here are some of the key focal points that can be taken away:
What We Learned:
1. Michigan State can overcome Bryn Forbes' shooting slump.
Sharpshooter Bryn Forbes didn't have a great game shooting from distance as he normally does. Forbes was 0-for-4 from three point range by the under-16 media timeout in the second half. His two points at that mark forced teammates to step up. Denzel Valentine's ability to knock down the open three and create for himself eased the pain of another off shooting night for Forbes.
Their future opponents in the NCAA tournament will know to key in on Forbes on the perimeter, and if the Spartans wish to make a march to Houston, others will need to step up in case Forbes stays in a shooting slump. It didn't take long for Valentine to reach double digits in the scoring column, but the balanced scoring helped prevail the Spartans towards a probable No. 1 seed.
2. The Spartans can execute in a variety of offensive tempos.
Going back to the shooting slump of Bryn Forbes, the Spartans did a great job of running their offensive sets and getting easy looks through Valentine's penetration abilities. Fast break opportunities are hard to come by in the NCAA tournament, so having playmakers who can lead others and navigate through opposing defenses will be pivotal for longevity in the Big Dance.
The emergence of freshman forward Deyonta Davis has played a crucial role in their ability to execute and score in a half court setting. Davis has evolved into a menace of the glass and is one of those players who doesn't need a play run for him to be an integral part of the offensive flow. His activity and rebounding prowess makes it easy for him to get involved in the scoring column.
3. Purdue's guards should no longer be considered a weak spot.
P.J. Thompson and Johnny Hill have been labeled as a detriment to the Boilermakers chances of a long run in the Big Dance. In a slowdown, methodical pace that is the norm in the tournament, the guard play is pivotal. The notion of programs needing scoring guards could be deemed unfair, but the Boilermakers have two guards who can manage a game and put their team in position to compete against anybody in the country. Thompson and Hill combined for only one turnover in the championship tilt against the Spartans. Having guards who don't turn the ball over could be more advantageous than a program that has a scoring lead guard who is turnover prone.
If Hill and Thompson can be steady facilitators who focus on getting the big men involved and knocking down timely shots like they did against Purdue, the Boilermakers can make a run throughout the rest of this month.