The stage is set for round three in the heavyweight battle between Michigan State and Michigan. And for the second time in as many weekends, they will be playing for a championship.
The Spartans have gotten the better of their in state rivals so far this year, winning a share of the Big Ten championship with a win in East Lansing last weekend, their second win over the Wolverines this year. Now the two teams will square off for the Big Ten Tournament title, a title that Michigan has won two years running.
In fact this will be the fourth straight year that a team from the Great Lakes State has won the Big Ten Tournament. Only an overtime win by Wisconsin against MSU in 2015 keeps it from being five years in a row. Suddenly, Michigan State and Michigan have become the Big Ten version of one of the best rivalries in the sport of college basketball.
“Whenever you are playing in games that matters in your state, that’s big. When it matters in the conference, that’s big. When it starts to matter nationally, then you’ve got yourself something special,” said Tom Izzo about playing big games against Michigan.
Both coaches believe that Michigan State and Michigan are on the path to being something more than just a regional rivalry.
“Michigan State is a force that’s not going away in the Big Ten. Michigan is a force that’s not going away in the Big Ten.” — John Beilein— Brendan Quinn (@BFQuinn) March 16, 2019
“It is important that big games matter, and big games that matter nationally are even bigger games,” said Izzo.
Michigan State has won the most Big Ten Tournament titles with five. The Wolverines have won the last two, and have a chance to become the first team to ever win three in a row.
This is just the third time the two teams have played in the Big Ten Tournament, all of them coming in the last five years. Michigan beat the Spartans in the semi-finals last year en route to their second straight Big Ten Tournament title.
However, Michigan State has the win in the only time the two teams matched up in the championship game, winning the title over the Wolverines in 2014.
That year was the only time that the two teams faced off three times in the same season. The win by Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship prevented the Wolverines from being the first team to beat the other three times in the same year. The Spartans will have a chance to accomplish that feat on Sunday.
Regardless of who wins, it is a good time to be a college basketball fan in the state of Michigan. Tom Izzo has been at Michigan State for a long time and he has never seen the rivalry at this point.
“Early on in my career when we were ranked I think 250th and they were good, and then we were ranked on top and they weren’t very good, it’s hard to have a rivalry,” said Izzo.
Well now the two teams are about to play their third game as top-ten opponents in the last three weeks, and with a title hanging in the balance for the second time in eight days. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.