For the first time since 2000, which was also the last time they won the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State beat Wisconsin three times in a single season. The convincing 65-52 win puts the Spartans into the finals on Sunday against Ohio State, which dominated Michigan 77-55 in the day's second game. This was also Tom Izzo's first win in the conference tournament over nemesis Bo Ryan, who beat him the first three times they had met.
This was a game of runs, somewhat reminiscent of the first Indiana game this year. Wisconsin came out shooting well and Michigan State, well, did not, missing their first seven shots. The Badgers scored the game's first 9 points and, after a Jared Berggren three-pointer at the 10:13 mark, they led 20-9. At that point the game turned around completely and Wisconsin failed to hit a shot from the field for the remainder of the half, i.e., over half of the entire period. MSU's run extended into the second half, at which point they led 46-27, making it a 37-7 run. It began with a stunning sequence of three straight three-pointers by Austin Thornton and at the end of it MSU had made 14 of 18 shots, including the first 8 in a row.
This would be cause for most opponents to be given up for dead, but, like the villain from a low-budget slasher movie, Wisconsin just wouldn't be killed. They went on another run of their own, quickly cutting the deficit to 6 on a Jordan Taylor three-ball at the 12:18 mark. It was starting to get a little uncomfortable in Bankers Life Fieldhouse but the Spartans responded with an 11-0 run and the margin never dropped below double-digits after that.
It was a solid win for MSU, who, though they may have been missing injured Branden Dawson on the offensive glass, made up for it in plenty of other areas, leaving Wisconsin with nothing to look forward to on Sunday other than their seeding in the NCAAs. Four factors analysis, player notes and more after the jump.
According to Statsheet.com this was a 58-possession game, which was exactly what Ken Pomeroy projected ($) and exactly what Wisconsin has averaged in conference play this year. What Pomeroy wasn't able to project is that MSU would score 65 points in those possessions against the third-most efficient scoring defense in the country. The 1.12 points per trip MSU managed would be the third best scoring game against the Badgers this year, behind only themselves in East Lansing and Indiana in the first round on Friday. The 57.1 eFG% for MSU was the second best mark against Wisconsin this year and the second time the Spartans broke 50 against them. For the game Michigan State sported a healthy shooting line of .455/.667/.739 (2P%/3P%/FT%).
Although I have seen it reported that MSU won the rebounding battle, this was clearly not the case. The official box score has the total rebounds even at 29 each and there were a lot more defensive rebounds available for the Spartans. Wisconsin's uncharacteristic aggressiveness on the offensive glass is reflected in the four factors graph. Still, a 30.3% offensive rebounding rate is not exactly dominance and they clearly paid for it in their transition defense. Unofficially, I had MSU with 12 points in transition. Led by Keith Appling the Spartans made a concerted effort to run on the Badgers and had a number of transition baskets. There was even a possession where Travis Trice, gimpy ankle and all, beat the entire Wisconsin defense down the floor where he waited for a baseball pass from Green before laying it in. I can't remember the last time I saw that against Wisconsin.
Draymond Green — For the second consecutive game Green didn't make a 3-pointer but that was almost the only stat he didn't record an entry for. He led the team in points (14), rebounds (16), assists (5), turnovers (7!), blocks (3) and free-throw attempts (12). He also recorded a steal and $15 in popcorn sales. He got off to a rough start, committing 4 turnovers before he scored his first point, but put it together in the second half, especially on the defensive glass where he was flat-out dominant after the break, grabbing 9 of his 13 defensive boards.
Keith Appling — This was a solid, poised and effective game for Appling at both ends. He had 13 points on just 5 shot attempts and 5 assists against just one turnover. And much to the relief of the Spartan faithful, he hit another 3-pointer, raising hopes that he may be coming out of his funk. He didn't shut down Jordan Taylor, who went for 19, but Taylor did need 14 shots to get there and only had 2 assists to offset his 3 turnovers.
Austin Thornton — is the man. Just when things looked their darkest, and the game was starting to feel like the previous two years' visits to the Kohl Center, he nailed transition threes on three straight possessions. For that short stretch he put the team on his back, which seems like a pretty crazy thing to be typing in March.
Derrick Nix/Adreian Payne — It's become almost a cliche now to refer to them as one player but that's how they're being used, and used effectively, at that. Against Wisconsin the 5 position recorded 15 points and 8 boards in 35 minutes of action and limited Jared Berggren, Frank Kaminsky and Mike Bruesewitz to 9 combined points. Nix deserves individual mention for scoring the team's first 7 points when nothing else was working and Wisconsin was threatening to blow it wide open.
Izzo had a pretty long bench in this one, as 8 players had at least 9 minutes and Russell Byrd also chipped in with 4. Brandon Wood started and was effective, scoring 9 points and playing solid defense. Travis Trice continued to show no ill effects from his ankle injury, though he was limited to 9 minutes.
Seriously, what's up with the crewcuts? I don't think Ryan requires them, since Bruesewitz played last season with a curly mop and Ryan Evans has the Fresh Prince thing going on. Since they don't wear names on their jerseys either it makes it a bit challenging to tell who's in the game at any given time. Anyway, a good win for the Spartans against a quality opponent and a rival. It might have been nice to break the tie against Michigan with the tournament title on the line, but it's almost as good to get another crack at Ohio State, after the Senior Day heartbreak. Immediately following that game the Spartans will learn their fate at the hands of the Selection Committee, who will reveal seed and destination for the NCAA Tournament. Should be an interesting day.