Michigan State’s Big Ten Tournament Play
The Spartans’ Short Run
Michigan State finished its short-lived Big Ten Tournament play on Friday after a 63-58 loss to Minnesota. On Thursday, the Spartans out-hustled Penn State, but it seems that the same Spartans team did not show up in the quarterfinals. Nick Ward and Miles Bridges led the way for Michigan State in both games, but the supporting cast played a lot better against the Nittany Lions than it did against the Golden Gophers.
Second Round: Michigan State vs. Penn State
When the Spartans met Penn State on Thursday after a first-round bye, MSU’s three starting freshmen led the way to a 78-51 blowout win. Bridges and Ward both had 15 points and 9 rebounds each, and Joshua Langford was just behind them with 13 points. Starting point guard Lourawls “TumTum” Nairn Jr. had arguably the best stat line of the game with 0 points, 0 turnovers, and 9 assists. This is the Michigan State team that Coach Tom Izzo knows can power through and win games. These are the Spartans that can be competitive in the tournament.
Even though Penn State beat MSU in nearly every stat category, the Spartans were able to hold their own. Shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range, and outrebounding Penn State 44-29, this team simply showed up to win. It’s clear that this productive Michigan State team exists, but the squad’s inconsistency sometimes overshadows its best production, so it will be interesting to see how the Spartans play when it’s time for the Big Dance.
Quarterfinal: Michigan State vs. Minnesota
On Friday, Michigan State played a very confident Golden Gopher team. This was the third time Minnesota and Michigan State met this year, and the Spartans pulled away with wins in the previous two match-ups. However, after an 8-23 season last year, Minnesota turned around and finished 23-8 overall this year. Izzo knew coming into the game that the Richard Pitino-led Gophers were not going to go down easy. In the first half, Michigan State shot 27.6 percent from the field, including just 3-of-16 from deep. Despite their bad shooting, the Spartans were able to stay in the game by outrebounding Penn State 12-4 on the offensive glass. With a halftime score of 28-26, Izzo said, “I thought they outplayed us…to be down two is a blessing.” He added that he didn’t think the freshmen-led team did quite enough in the first half.
Minnesota went on an 8-0 run with 12:50 left in the game to help put the Gophers up 41-33, and things did not look great for the Spartans. But after eight straight missed threes, Langford finally hit one from downtown, followed by a Bridges dunk shortly thereafter. MSU fought its way back to take its first lead of the second half with 5:20 to play. However, the Golden Gophers then went on another 8-0 run with under five minutes to play and came away with the 63-58 win. Bridges and Ward led the scoring for MSU once again, but it was not quite enough this time. Ward put up a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Bridges scored 20 points but shot only 2-of-11 from three-point range. Four Golden Gophers scored in double-digits, led by Reggie Lynch with 16 points.
After seeing two different Michigan State teams show up in back-to-back games, it’s hard to tell which team will show up in the tournament. Coming out of the regular season, top-ranked NCAA teams generally secure a high seed regardless of how their conference tournament plays out. For example, look at No. 1 Kansas losing to TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 tournament; sure, the close loss didn’t look great for the Jayhawks, but no one expects them to drop much in their seeding. However, for a team in the middle like Michigan State, things can become a bit uncertain after losing their 14th game of the season. There is little to no doubt that MSU will make the Big Dance, but where the team ends up is a different story at the moment.