Richard Pitino said it himself in his postgame interview with ESPN’s Molly McGrath, “This was like a football game.”
This was not a game for the faint of heart, it was very physical from start to finish and even featured Minnesota big man Reggie Lynch heading back in the tunnel after almost losing a tooth after he committed a foul.
Toughness has perhaps been the strongest part of this Minnesota team all year, and going up against a team in Michigan State that you know is going to be tough with Tom Izzo coaching, it was a nice physical match-up.
It came down to executing down the stretch, and Minnesota simply made the plays that they needed to make and Michigan State struggled a bit down the stretch.
Let’s look at some of the things that can be taken away from this quarterfinal game.
1. Reggie Lynch is a dominant interior presence.
Okay, so obviously the defensive player of the year in the conference demands some respect on the interior with his shot blocking ability. Not only will he block your shot into the second row, but he can outwork guys in the paint. He sets great screens and rolls hard to the basket when he decides to go.
Minnesota is a completely different defensive team with him on the floor. They end up in far fewer scramble situations due to having to help down in the post. Lynch can guard almost any big man in the country one on one, and having a dominant shot blocker at the rim allows the perimeter defenders to be much more aggressive in their defense both on and off the ball.
If Lynch is on the floor, Minnesota has the potential to definitely be an elite defensive team.
2. Minnesota is hot enough to win the Big Ten Tournament.
A lot is being made of the run that Michigan is on, and that is all certainly well deserved. Minnesota is definitely not a team to be slept on, however, and the two teams will meet in the semifinal game tomorrow afternoon for what should be a great game.
The run Minnesota is on has been fabulous and to see them bounce back from the five game losing streak near the beginning of the conference season that had them at 3-6 through the first nine games to where they are now has been unbelievable. It starts with great coaching by Richard Pitino, a guy who had people calling for his job at the end of last year.
This team has won nine of their last ten games to get to where they are now, and a run to a conference championship certainly is well within reality.
3. Who does Michigan State go to down the stretch?
In the past, Michigan State has always had the one guy you could give the ball to near the end of a close game, whether it was Denzel Valentine or Draymond Green in recent history. Who’s that guy on this team? Is it Miles Bridges? Can he be consistent enough as an outside scorer to carry the load late in a tight game?
Michigan State had a 52-50 lead in this game with about five minutes remaining and Minnesota simply locked down defensively and executed better down the stretch. Surely, you’d think Tom Izzo will figure something out come time for the NCAA Tournament to ensure better execution down the stretch, but if everything breaks down, is Bridges a guy you can give the ball to? Is the killer instinct there for this team?
In the end, Michigan State will more than likely be just fine. They’re still going to make the NCAA Tournament and be one of the more dangerous teams seeded in the 10 range that you’ll ever see, but there are still questions.
For Minnesota, the question will be whether or not they can generate enough outside shooting to compliment the ability they have to drive and get to the basket.
Both of these teams are definitely going to be in the NCAA Tournament, and it will be interesting to see how some of these things unfold going forward.