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Big Ten Tournament Championship Preview: Michigan looks to make history against bitter rival Michigan State

More than just bragging rights are on the line for both the Spartans and Wolverines

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

Real talk — we all saw this coming, yes?

Like Jim Carey and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Michigan and Michigan State are drawn together on a level none of us can really comprehend.

But does the fact that this matchup for the Big Ten title seems preordained make it any less fun? Hell no.

The battle for mitten supremacy is fun every year — but put a number one seed for Michigan State and a third straight Big Ten title for the Wolverines on the line and this meeting gets cranked up to 11.

-No. 3 Michigan Wolverines vs No. 1 Michigan State Spartans

  • Time/TV: 3:30PM ET - CBS
  • KenPom Spread: Michigan State (-1)

I alluded to it in the opening, but Michigan has a change to make history on Sunday by becoming the first Big Ten program to win three straight postseason conference championships. To etch its name in the record books, however, it’ll have to slay a Michigan State team that currently owns a two-game winning streak over the Wolverines.

Luckily for coach John Beilein, his team has been absolutely dominate during its mini run in Chicago, defeating Iowa and Minnesota by a combined 150-102 scoring margin.

As much has been the case this season, both of Michigan’s lopsided victories involved a balanced team effort. Against Iowa, no single player scored more than 15 points with five players finishing in double-digits. In its meeting with Minnesota, the story remained nearly the same, with Isaiah Livers’ 21 points being followed closely on the box score by Zavier Simpsons’ 15 and Big Ten Freshmen of the Year Ignas Brazdeikis’ 13 point evening.

Entering Sunday’s championship game, it’s important to note that thanks to back-to-back blowouts, Michigan’s roster should be relatively fresh. Against Iowa only Brazdeikis and Simpson played more than 30 minutes, while against the Gophers only Jordan Poole crossed the 30 minute threshold.

For the Spartans, while its two tournament victories involved narrower scoring margins, Tom Izzo’s team has still rather easily navigated to Sunday’s Big Ten finale.

In a seven-point win over Ohio State, Mr. Do-Everything Cassius Winston led the way for Sparty with 18 points over just 22 minutes of game action. He followed that up by again leading Michigan State in scoring in Saturday’s victory over Wisconsin, scoring 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting.

Outside of Winston, the Spartans’ second fiddle has been a rotating cast of characters, with Xavier Tillman, Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins, and rarely used freshmen Foster Loyer all pitching in double-digit scoring games.

And much like the Wolverines, Michigan State enters the title game fairly well-rested, with only Goins (twice), McQuaid, and Aaron Henry, having played 30 minutes or more in either win.

So what’s got to give for Michigan to buck its losing streak against the Spartans? Pretty much just Cassius Winston.

In their first meeting of the year, Winston led the way for MSU by scoring 27 points while playing all 40 minuets of the game. He followed that up with an even more efficient outing, putting up 23 points in just 31 minutes in the rematch. Furthermore, both of those outputs made Winston the leading scorer of each game, a feat made more impressive considering the junior guard went a combined 1-for-9 from beyond the arc.

Outside of Winston taking over both games, nothing out of the ordinary jumps out when looking over each boxscore. Meaning the Big Ten title might very well come down to how the conference’s Player of the Year performs on Sunday afternoon.

  • Pick Against The Spread: Michigan State

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Season Record vs KenPom’s Spread: 18-26