It has been a season full of ups and downs for Michigan State. The Spartans have had to battle a tough schedule, a number of key injuries and youthful growing pains. Despite all of that Michigan State finds itself in a similar spot — knocking on the door of the NCAA Tournament for a 20th straight season.
Before the Spartans can put on their dancing shoes they’ll need to find their groove again in the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan State has reached the Big Ten Tournament championship game each of the last three years and four of the last five. However, it’ll be a lot harder for the Spartans to reach Sunday’s title tilt this time around as the 5 seed.
Head coach Tom Izzo always gets the most out of his teams in March so we’ll see if this year’s team can continue that tradition. Let’s take a look at how the Big Ten Tournament could play out for the Spartans.
With a 10-8 record in the Big Ten, Michigan State finds themselves as the 5 seed entering this weekend’s tournament. The good news is they will get a bye from playing on Wednesday but the bad news is they will still have a pretty tough matchup in their opening round. The Spartans will take on the winner of Nebraska-Penn State in the 12-13 seed matchup on Thursday at 2:30 (game can be found on BTN).
The Spartans swept the Cornhuskers in both meetings during the regular season, while losing to Penn State in their only meeting back in early January at The Palestra. Both Nebraska and Penn State enter the Big Ten Tournament on losing skids with the Cornhuskers dropping their last four and the Nittany Lions losing their last five.
If Nebraska is Michigan State’s opponent on Thursday then the Spartans will simply need similar performances out of freshman studs Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. Bridges averaged 18 points and Ward averaged 15 points between the two games against Nebraska this year, with both playing great as of late as well. However, it’s tough to beat a team three times in a year and Nebraska won’t bow out easily in Washington, D.C.
If Penn State prevails on Wednesday then Michigan State will have a chance to avenge one of its worst losses of the year. Penn State dominated the Spartans on the glass that day, and Michigan State kept giving the ball away with 17 turnovers. The Spartans really showed their youth in the earlier matchup, and if they can be smart with the ball and not give up as many second chances — Penn State won the offensive rebounding matchup with a 9-to-4 advantage — then I like their chances against the Nittany Lions.
If They Advance
Michigan State should take care of either Nebraska or Penn State on Thursday, and if they do then they’ll set up a big matchup with 4 seed Minnesota in the quarterfinals on Friday. The Spartans swept the Gophers in their two meetings this year, but that was a different Minnesota team. Both games came before the end of January and since then Minnesota has been probably the hottest team in the league. This will be a great game as long as Michigan State takes care of business on Thursday.
If the Spartans find a way past Minnesota then they would take on Purdue, Michigan or Illinois. The odds suggest it’ll be Purdue but there’s still a chance the winner of Michigan-Illinois could knock off the Boilermakers in the quarterfinals. However, I don’t see that happening and if Michigan State has to play Purdue in the semifinals then their Big Ten Tournament run probably ends there. Purdue swept Michigan State in the regular season and their two big men — Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas — are simply too strong in the post for the Spartans. This is probably the worst matchup of all the Big Ten teams for Michigan State.
If Michigan State were to get past the semifinals then they would most likely have a matchup with Wisconsin, Maryland or Northwestern in the final. However, with how this league has gone this year there’s no guarantee that someone else doesn’t come out of that end of the bracket.
This team has been so inconsistent and the conference as a whole has been so even that anything is possible for Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. I wouldn’t be shocked if they reeled off four wins in four days to win the championship, but I would also not be surprised if they are knocked off in their first game. It’s hard to predict with how things have gone this year.
Michigan State looks like they’re going to make the NCAA Tournament again this year but picking up at least one more win is crucial to making Selection Sunday a little less nerve racking. That motivation will lead to the Spartans winning their first game, but after that it’s a toss up. I see them maxing out in the semifinals, but then again never rule out Izzo in March — even if it’s a young bunch he’s leading.