It has been 23 years since the Big Ten won a national championship in men’s basketball. That streak, which the league just can’t seem to shake itself of, was cemented with Michigan State’s 98-93 loss to Kansas State in the Sweet Sixteen.
Read that again.
It only took one loss to erase the league’s title hopes because only one of its teams made it to the second weekend. Despite all the teams the league sent to the tournament, just one made it this far. It helps that Michigan State has the most experienced head coach in the conference, but the league’s performance in March is inexcusable.
The conference’s undisputed champion was knocked out by a 16-seed!
Conference wins are mattering less, the style of play that works in the regular season hasn’t ever done the trick in the dance and there’s no clear sign that the league is at all interested in changing what might as well be fact.
Anyway, let’s talk about the actual game.
This was one for the ages, even going in. First-year phenom Jerome Tang and the Wildcats vs. Mr. March and the Spartans? Sign me right up. The action delivered on its promise and then some, with key plays from both sides sending the matchup into the overtime this game deserved.
The two teams traded baskets in the first few minutes to get things started, neither being able to build a comfortable lead without quickly allowing a shot on the other end. This kept on going until halftime, when the Wildcats managed to get five points ahead thanks to a 3-pointer from Cam Carter off of a Markquis Nowell assist.
Let’s talk about Nowell for a second here. The 5-8 phenom has been with Kansas State since last season but started his career down in Arkansas at Little Rock. That was his only offer at the Division-I level, so he had little choice.
Now? He’s trending at No. 1 worldwide on Twitter.
Michigan State just didn’t have an answer for him in the first half. If he wasn’t making a shot he was recording an assist on one. He ended the first half with 10, yes TEN, assists.
The Spartans were still struggling to find answers in the onset of the second half as the Wildcats gladly took advantage to stretch the lead to nine before a few key plays from Joey Hauser allowed State to claw its way back into the game, finally taking a 2-point lead thanks to an A.J. Hoggard layup with 13 minutes left in the game.
The two sides went back to trading blows from there, each heading back on offense with a full head of steam. Then, with just over three minutes to go, Kansas State did enough to build up a 5-point lead. But this is Tom Izzo. He’s not going out like that. A 3-pointer, tipped shot, made layup and a miss from Nowell sent the game into overtime.
This was already easily one of the best NCAA Tournament games since the Gonzaga-UCLA Final Four matchup in 2021. There were plenty of fireworks between Sowell’s brilliance and Michigan State’s refusal to not go down without throwing a few swings.
Remember all those times the Wildcats managed to pull away before the Spartans were able to claw their way back in? Well.
Kansas State kept making those plays. Michigan State didn’t.
Nowell assisted or scored on every one of Kansas State’s 16 points in overtime save for two free throws. A new Mr. March was crowned.
Not that the other, clad in green and white, lost that title. After all, Izzo’s the one who won the conference that title way back during the Clinton Administration.
It’s curtains not only for Michigan State, but for the Big Ten as a whole. If there’s one clear takeaway that the rest of the league needs from games like this it’s that guard play, not the biggest dude on the court, wins in March.
It’s long past time that the conference learns that.