In the first game of the quarterfinal rounds on Friday afternoon, the top seeded Michigan State Spartans pulled out another tight victory over the ninth seed Wisconsin Badgers to win a Big Ten Tournament game for the eighth consecutive year.
Behind Miles Bridges and Cassius Winston, the Tom Izzo squad did just enough to win the game against the scrappy Badgers led by All Big-Ten team performer Ethan Happ.
Let’s look at some of the key takeaways for both teams from this game.
What We Learned:
1. Michigan State continues winning without being at their best
The Michigan State Spartans have an incredible amount of talent they can put on the basketball floor at any given time. However, that doesn’t always translate to success, especially in a tournament situation where one game can end your teams run.
One of the biggest keys for any elite level team is to be able to win a game when they aren’t at their best, or are far from it. On numerous occasions, the Spartans have managed to do just that this season. Grinding out wins is not always the easiest thing for a team with a lot of talent, but this team has become fairly adept at it.
The Spartans shot only 5-16 from three against Wisconsin, 24-56 from the floor total for a shooting percentage of 42.9% for the game. Michigan State made up for that with 16 offensive rebounds, for a margin of 41-27 on the glass. The gap on the glass was likely the key to the victory for Sparty.
2. Wisconsin is set up for future success
It was not the season that Wisconsin fans wanted, for sure.
Expectations were tempered after losing everything that they lost from the team a year ago. However, nobody could have predicted the team being decimated by injuries the way that they were. Without Kobe King and D’Mitrik Trice, this team ended up looking much different than Greg Gard thought they were going to look going into the season.
Even with everything that went against Wisconsin in terms of personnel, they managed to turn their season around near the end of the season, beating Purdue and playing Michigan State tightly on two occasions. The Badgers went 4-3 in their last seven games, with all three losses coming against Michigan State or Michigan.
With Ethan Happ presumably returning to school along with Brad Davison and the returns of Trice and King, along with what is coming in should lead to Wisconsin being right back in contention for next season. It was a long season for the Badgers, but they won’t be out of the conversation for long.
The Michigan State Spartans were definitely favorites heading into the game, and they worked out of their first game jitters to pull out a victory in a game they were far from their best. They head into their semifinal game Saturday having won 13 straight games, and they seem to have turned into the team people expected. Winning in multiple ways is a huge key in March, and this Spartans team can certainly do that.
Wisconsin will see their streak of 19 consecutive seasons in the NCAA Tournament come to an end. With everything they have coming back for next season along with new talent they have to mix in, it could very well only be a one year absence for the Badgers.