Michigan State will enter the Big Ten Tournament as the outright regular season champions for the first time since 2009 — I was only a freshman in high school the last time that happened. But just because they are the regular season champs doesn’t mean they won’t have something to prove in the Big Apple.
Winning 16 out of 18 conference games is pretty impressive, especially when you’ve won your last 12. But the two losses in Big Ten play weren’t pretty and a favorable schedule has helped lead to the Spartans earning this conference championship — or at least that’s what many outside the program are saying.
The good news for Michigan State is they can silence those doubters with a strong showing at Madison Square Garden, and even play themselves into a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. So with that being said, there’s definitely a lot on the line for the Spartans as they take the floor in the first ever Big Ten Tournament being hosted in New York City. Let’s take a look at what lays ahead of Michigan State as they look to capture Tom Izzo’s sixth Big Ten Tournament championship.
The Spartans will get the luxury of sitting out the first two days of the Big Ten Tournament with a double-bye, and as the No. 1 seed they’ll play the winner of Maryland and Wisconsin. Those two teams will battle it out in the first game on Thursday at 12 p.m. with the Spartans getting the winner.
Michigan State swept both the Badgers and Terrapins during the regular season, but both teams gave the Spartans tough games on the road. Michigan State needed a double-digit second half comeback to beat Maryland in late January, and used a strong effort down the stretch to beat Wisconsin in the regular season finale on Sunday.
Both of the Spartans’ possible opening round opponents are most likely going to miss the NCAA Tournament, but still have some weapons and plenty of pride to make this a good game. Either one of these teams will present challenges and it’s really a wash on who the Spartans would rather face. However, the Spartans should have extra motivation to win this game to setup the possibility of a rematch in the semifinals with one of the teams that beat them this year — Michigan.
If They Advance
Michigan State will most likely be double-digit favorites in their quarterfinals game, and should win that matchup with either Wisconsin or Maryland. If they take care of business, then they’ll most likely play the winner of Nebraska and Michigan — the Wolverines will need to win their first game on Thursday, but with how well they are playing right now I’m assuming they’ll advance.
The possibility of getting a revenge rematch with the Wolverines is exciting for Spartans everywhere, and would definitely be who Michigan State will be rooting for in that quarterfinal matchup. Michigan was smacked around by the Cornhuskers in their lone matchup in January out in Lincoln, but the Wolverines have arguably been the hottest team in the league as of late and will be the favorites in that game.
Michigan State beat Nebraska by 29-points in their only meeting back in early December, but a lot has changed since then so don’t expect a similar result if the Cornhuskers make it to the semifinals. Plus, Nebraska is playing for their NCAA Tournament life and a win over Michigan State could punch their ticket to the big dance so this would be a fun matchup as well.
If Michigan State gets through their semifinal matchup, then they’ll most likely play Ohio State or Purdue in the Big Ten Tournament championship game on Sunday. There’s always a chance a dark horse team like Penn State or Indiana could come out of that half of the bracket, but odds are it’ll be either Purdue or Ohio State. Michigan State lost to the Buckeyes in Columbus back in early January and knocked off the Boilermakers on a last second three-pointer by Miles Bridges at the Breslin Center a few weeks ago.
The Spartans could use a few more nice wins during the Big Ten Tournament and there should be some opportunities if they were to make it to Sunday’s championship game.
By winning the Big Ten regular season championship, Michigan State has sealed up a No. 3 seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. However, the Big Ten Tournament will present an opportunity for the Spartans to play themselves into a possible No. 1 seed.
The possibility of playing Michigan again is exciting and something every Spartan fan is hoping for — even with how well the Wolverines are playing right now. Then you look at possibly getting a rematch with the Buckeyes or picking up another win against the Boilermakers to improve the Spartans’ resume. There’s a lot to gain in these three days at Madison Square Garden, and could really help secure an easier path to Izzo’s eighth Final Four.
Some years the Big Ten Tournament doesn’t really mean that much, but this year that’s not the case. The Spartans need a good showing to help quiet some doubters and improve their NCAA Tournament seeding. It also wouldn’t hurt to add a Big Ten Tournament championship to their regular season crown to become the undisputed top dogs in the league.