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Can The Spartans Live Up To Expectations In The Big Ten Tournament?

What will the Spartans do in Chicago?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Things may not have gone perfectly this season, but as the Michigan State Spartans prepare for this week’s Big Ten Tournament, expectations are sky high. Michigan State grabbed a share of the Big Ten regular season title on Saturday after beating arch-rival Michigan and now hopes to grab a one seed in the NCAA Tournament this weekend.

But can the Spartans live up to expectations this weekend? Let’s take a look.

-Opening Round

As the one seed, Michigan State will tip-off play in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday against either Indiana or Ohio State. Both the Hoosiers and Buckeyes are deadlocked in the NCAA Tournament bubble race. Indiana and Ohio State are both currently projected to be on the edge of the field, so a matchup between the two could very well be an elimination game. ESPN currently has Ohio State as the last team in and Indiana as the first team out.

If Michigan State ends up facing Indiana, there’s little debating that it will be a challenging game. Indiana enters this weekend with plenty of momentum. The Hoosiers have won four in a row, including two wins against top 15 teams on KenPom. Moreover, Indiana actually swept the regular season matchup between the two. The Hoosiers won in East Lansing on February 2nd and followed that up with another win in Bloomington on March 2nd. Both games were highly competitive, but the Hoosiers got some big performances from Romeo Langford and Justin Smith to grab two wins over the Spartans.

Beating an opponent three times in a single season is never easy and the Spartans would surely be hungry for revenge. Nonetheless, Indiana also would have to be confident in its chances of pulling off the upset, considering that it’s already done so twice this season.

However, there’s no denying that Michigan State is a better team. The Spartans are 25-6 overall, 16-4 in Big Ten play, and have won seven of the team’s last eight games. Michigan State is also fourth nationally on KenPom and the program hasn’t lost its Big Ten Tournament opener since 2010. That’s eight straight opening round wins for Michigan State in the conference tournament. An incredible accomplishment.

The Ohio State matchup looks less dangerous on paper, but the Buckeyes could also be challenging. After all, Ohio State was relatively competitive with Michigan State in both regular season meetings, despite dropping both contests. The second game was competitive until the closing minutes, when Ohio State simply collapsed. Kaleb Wesson should also be back for the Buckeyes.

If it’s Indiana, Michigan State will have to find a way to slow down Romeo Langford and get its offense going. If it’s Ohio State, the key will be slowing down Wesson.

-If They Advance

Should Michigan State beat either Indiana or Ohio State, it would then likely face Wisconsin on Saturday in the Big Ten Tournament semi-finals. The other potential opponents are Maryland or Nebraska. Interestingly, Michigan State went undefeated against these three teams during the regular season. Still, given each team’s profile, Spartan fans will hope that Nebraska somehow finds its way to Saturday.

But assuming it is Wisconsin, it’s going to be a tough matchup. Wisconsin is 12th nationally on KenPom and is playing really good basketball, having won five of its last six games. The Spartans would be favored in the matchup, but not by a significant margin.

The good news is that Wisconsin has also shown some upset potential this season. The Badgers dropped games to Minnesota and Western Kentucky already this season (both are below Indiana on KenPom) and nearly dropped games to teams like Northwestern and Ohio State as well.

After that, Michigan State would likely be looking at either Michigan or Purdue in a potential championship game. The Spartans swept the Wolverines in two hard fought contests and split with the Boilermakers. Like the Wisconsin matchup, Michigan State would be favored against either opponent, but not by a significant margin.

Overall

After winning the Big Ten and winning seven of its last eight games, expectations are sky high for Michigan State heading into the Big Ten Tournament. More simply put, fans are expecting the Spartans to cut down some nets over the weekend on the way toward a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

There’s no denying that Michigan State is capable of accomplishing those goals this weekend. After all, the Spartans are the one seed in the event for a reason. Michigan State leads the league on KenPom and recorded regular season wins against every Big Ten team except for Illinois and Indiana. As such, it’s completely reasonable to think the Spartans go into Chicago and win this year’s Big Ten Tournament.

With that said, it won’t be easy. Indiana has been a thorn in Michigan State’s side all season and very well could await the Spartans on Friday. Wisconsin is also a lot better than many admit and likely will face Michigan State on Saturday. And both Michigan and Purdue are more than talented enough to grab a win against Michigan State on Sunday.

All told, Michigan State enters the Big Ten Tournament with some high expectations. The Spartans are completely capable of running the table, but it will take some quality play. It should be fun to follow in the coming days.