The last time Michigan basketball won the Big Ten Tournament was in the tourney’s inaugural season back in 1998. That win was vacated due to NCAA sanctions. The last time Michigan State won it was just two years ago, which was their 3rd Big Ten Tourney title in the event’s 17-year history. The last time Michigan played Michigan State in the BTT was….never. That streak is over.
As predicted in my tournament preview (click here), the Wolverines and Spartans will square off for the 3rd time this season on Sunday afternoon. This highly anticipated title bout will tip at 3:30 eastern and be televised on CBS.
The Wolverines have knocked the Spartans off twice already this season, winning 80-75 back in late January at the Breslin Center and again in Ann Arbor three weeks ago by a final count of 79-70.
The Wolverines, after winning the Big Ten’s regular season title, have played a pair of nail-biters to get themselves to Sunday. A Jordan Morgan tip-in gave them a 64-63 win on Friday over Illinois. In the semis they were able to hold off a 2nd half charge from the Ohio State Buckeyes and came out on top with a 72-69 victory.
Some bracket experts think that a win on Sunday could elevate Michigan all the way to a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament. It has been my feeling all along that they are a 2-seed regardless of what happened in the Big Ten Tourney and I maintain that position. If nothing else, their run this weekend could very well mean that they’re a 2-seed playing close to home, which is an obvious advantage.
Michigan State’s path
The Spartans opened on Friday against Northwestern and drilled them in convincing fashion, 67-51. The 2 v. 3 seed matchup on Saturday against Wisconsin promised to be a thriller, but Michigan State had other ideas. Gary Harris and friends controlled the game from beginning to end, derailing the Grinch’s, I mean Bo Ryan’s, Badgers by a final score of 83-75.
Tom Izzo’s main mission in Indy was to get his team back to playing cohesive basketball and keeping them healthy. Mission accomplished. This run, with or without a win on Sunday, has given the Spartans some badly needed momentum heading into March Madness. The talent on this squad remains top-shelf and some of the mental cobwebs have seemingly been cleared out of their collective heads. Fans of Michigan State can fill out their NCAA tournament brackets with a lot more confidence now.
I anticipate Michigan State ending up as a 4 or 5 seed in the big dance with the upside of a 3 seed if they can win on Sunday.
Well, I got us this far. On Tuesday I published an overall tournament preview, predicting this exact matchup, and also forecasting Michigan’s first legitimate BTT championship. Nothing has happened to make me change my opinion.
Michigan has already beaten these Spartans twice in 2014 and have won six of the last eight in the rivalry. You know Tom Izzo wants to put a stop to this unsettling trend in a bad way. But obviously, John Beilein has other plans.
The Wolverines have been more consistent than any other team in the Big Ten all season long. They play together, they play for each other, and they play always expecting to ‘win the game’. A special run through the Big Ten will be capped off with the always difficult task of beating the same team three times in a single season.
Michigan prevails, 79-73.
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