For as wacky as the Big Ten has been this year, it's equal parts counterintuitive and fitting that the final four teams in the Big Ten Tournament are the ones that would've been the most easily predicted five months ago: Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State. The latter two teams will face off today not just to put another notch on the metaphorical belt that connects the Spartans and Badgers, but also to face the Michigan-Ohio State winner for the Big Ten Tournament trophy.
In the only other matchup between the Badgers and Spartans this season, the Badgers were up by 7 in Madison with less than four minutes remaining. Then the Adreian Payne show commenced. The 6'10" forward drew fouls, and although he missed a couple of free throws late, he hit a three pointer to tie the game sat 58 with 8 seconds left. However, Traevon Jackson hit a mid-range jumper with three seconds left, and a Travis Trice heave from more than 30 feet out came oh so close, but not in. Wisconsin won 60-58, and that win in part made the Badgers the second seed and MSU the three seed in this tournament.
Per this blog's standard operating procedure, here are three keys that MSU can exploit to get to Sunday:
- Keep up the good help defense. One aspect of MSU's play which was noticeably better yesterday was the Spartans' help defense against Northwestern. Eliminated were the wide-open players on the perimeter waiting to shoot threes. Wisconsin shot almost 40% from three in the Badgers' victory this season. If they make contested threes, fine, live with the results. That said, don't make things easier than they have to be.
- Don't expect the past to repeat itself. Wisconsin turned it over on more than 20% of its possessions when they played MSU in February. I can't remember a turnover rate that high for the Badgers against the Spartans ever. While it'd be nice if Traevon Jackson turned the ball over five times again, don't count on it.
- Bottle whatever was going on during the end of the first half and the start of the second half yesterday, and make it happen today. Yeah, that advice is unspecific and generally unhelpful. What I saw from the Spartans during that period, though, was a glimpse into their ultimate potential in the days ahead. Is it easy to stop Northwestern on offense? Sure. However, the Wildcats were a top 25 team in KenPom defensively, and at times the Spartans dissected their defense with ease. Branden Dawson's return to top form propelled the Green and White to victory yesterday, let's hope that form is maintained for three to four more weeks.