It’s all come down to this. The Michigan Wolverines would love nothing more than to invade the Breslin Center and end their biggest rival’s hopes and dreams. The Michigan State Spartans have other plans, with their goals well within reach, and can make those a reality with a victory on Saturday night.
There is so much at stake in Saturday’s prime time matchup. It’s a fitting end to a whirlwind regular season, which has seen several of MSU’s top players deal with long-term injuries. Despite the bad injury luck, the Spartans have weathered the storm of playing in the Big Ten Conference — probably the deepest and toughest conference in the NCAA — and set themselves up for at least a share of the Big Ten title.
This game has all of the makings of a potential instant classic: two heated rivals, nationally televised, a top-10 matchup, a conference title on the line, a potential No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, Senior Night, bragging rights, NCAA Tournament seeding, etc. More on all of that later, but saying this is a huge game is an understatement.
In fact, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo thinks this is the biggest game in Breslin Center history. Think about that for a second. Here is what Izzo said on the matter, per MLive:
“A lot of big games here, a lot of games that I’ve enjoyed, but if you looked at all those things, the rivalry, both in the top-10, playing for a championship with seeding implications for the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA Tournament, the national television, all the things, I’d say yeah, yeah it is (the biggest game in the building’s history),” Izzo said.
So what exactly is at stake? Let’s quickly recap:
Big Ten Title
A win for Michigan or Michigan State guarantees at least a share of the Big Ten regular season conference championship title. If Purdue is somehow upset by Northwestern earlier in the day (2:30 p.m. tip-off), then the winner of the U of M/MSU game will be the sole Big Ten champion. Michigan State won the regular season title outright last season, and has a chance to repeat for the first time since 2009-2010. Michigan looks to capture its first regular season title since 2014.
No. 1 Seed in Big Ten Tournament
I’ve noticed a lot of fans here say they really don’t care how well MSU does in the Big Ten Tournament, and a regular season title is more important. Whatever your opinion is on that, the winner of Saturday night’s game will be the No. 1 seed for the tournament in Chicago. While Purdue can still claim a share of the title, it cannot get the No. 1 seed in the conference tourney. The Boilermakers lost to Minnesota, keeping the door open for the Spartans and Wolverines’ conference championship aspirations, but closing the door on Purdue’s No. 1 seed hopes. Why? Michigan State and Michigan both hold the tiebreaker over the Boilermakers, who went a combined 1-2 against the Michigan-based schools. Purdue can hope for a No. 2 seed at best, but are guaranteed at least a No. 3 seed in the Windy City.
Sending the Seniors out with a win on Senior Night
Despite the injuries, expect the MSU players on the floor to come out with a fire and send seniors Kenny Goins and Matt McQuaid out the right way. Goins and McQuaid led the way in Tuesday night’s victory over Nebraska, and will need to step up once again in the scoring department against a very talented Michigan team. The Spartans are going to do everything in their power to win this game for the seniors. The fans will be doing their part to help in a loud, raucous white-out environment. This event could be extra special for Goins and McQuaid, as they’ll not only get an opportunity to kiss the “S,” (Spartan logo these days) but also a chance to win another Big Ten Title, all while ending their biggest rival’s chances of doing so. It doesn’t get much better than that. Here are a few of our favorite Senior Day/Night traditions.
NCAA Tournament Seeding
It’s hard to predict the exact implications of where this puts MSU in terms of seeding for the national tournament, but a season sweep of Michigan, the No. 7 team in the entire nation, is surely only going to help matters for MSU. While a win at the Breslin Center will improve the stock of the Wolverines. In our most recent bracketology piece, the Spartans were holding strong as a No. 2 seed. That is still the likeliest scenario for MSU, but a win over Michigan and a strong conference tournament could potentially land Michigan State a No. 1 seed, especially if teams like Duke continue to struggle without Zion Williamson. It’s a probably a stretch at this point, but it’s not off of the table.
In-State Bragging Rights
If MSU sweeps Michigan, that is a feat they get to hang onto for another year (unless the teams meet in the conference or even national tournament). This basketball game has potentially grown into the best part about this in-state rivalry, even more so than football. This is about pride for your favorite school. This is about being able to say you’re the better team. This is about two of the best teams in the entire country proving who wants it more. It’s always nice to beat your rival no matter what the circumstances are, but to be able to play this game on such a big stage with a Big Ten title at stake? That’s just the cherry on top. While this doesn’t matter much in the overall grand scheme of things, you better believe this is important to the players, students, fans and schools alike.
So yeah, I would say there is plenty to be excited about, and so much at stake. Go Green!
The game tips off at 8 p.m. and is broadcast on ESPN.
Spartans! What is your profession?