Rushed Reactions: Big Ten Semifinal Saturday

Posted by Walker Carey on March 16th, 2019

While Minnesota‘s upset victory over Purdue on Friday night prevented the Big Ten’s top four seeds from all advancing to the conference tournament semifinals, Michigan State, Michigan and Wisconsin making it through to Saturday encapsulated how much of the conference season was dominated by the league’s top teams. The league will still likely send at least six teams to the NCAA Tournament — depending on your feelings about bubble teams Ohio State and Indiana — but this weekend’s action further illustrated that the class of the league possesses the necessary firepower necessary to make a significant run in the main bracket. Tomorrow’s Michigan State vs. Michigan final will crown a Big Ten Tournament champion, but it will also give the national audience a glimpse at two of the few Big Ten teams that can make some noise when NCAA Tournament play commences. Here are some of the key takeaways from Saturday afternoon’s action in Chicago.

Michigan State Advances to the Big Ten Tournament Final Where It Will Face Rival Michigan (USA Today Images)
  1. Cassius Winston is Michigan State’s star, but the Spartans need their role players to continue their strong play. The Big Ten Player of the Year turned in another star effort on Saturday afternoon, finishing the semifinal game with 21 points and six assists. While Winston’s heroics are mostly expected at this point, it has been the emergence of Michigan State’s role players that has been an important component in the team winning nine of its last 10. That was on full display in today’s win over Wisconsin. Veteran forwards Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman were outstanding against the Badgers, combining for 30 points and 19 rebounds while providing the Spartans with stout defense in the post. Freshman swingman Aaron Henry also turned in a noteworthy performance, as he continued to make strides in his all-around game by collecting 11 rebounds. For the Spartans to get to Minneapolis, they are going to need the team’s complementary players to continue to turn in impressive efforts — Winston is a terrific player, but he cannot take Michigan State to the Final Four on his own. The role players Tom Izzo has developed seem capable of making sure Winston has the necessary help to put together a deep run.
  2. Wisconsin’s plodding offense could be its downfall. Throughout most of Wisconsin’s 20+ years of sustained success, the Badgers have been synonymous with a low-tempo offensive attack that limits possessions and aims to take as many high percentage shots as possible. That strategy has served Wisconsin very well in the past, but Saturday’s loss to Michigan State showed this Badgers team may have to make a few tweaks if they want to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The Spartans ran out to a 15-4 lead to begin the game and Wisconsin’s lack of offensive prowess made that early deficit nearly impossible to overcome. The Badgers finished the game shooting just 35.3 percent from the field and a ghastly 10.5 percent from the three-point line. Starters D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, and Nate Reuvers combined to shoot just 5-of-26 from the field and their inability to get anything going resulted in Michigan State putting more of an emphasis on containing standout forward Ethan Happ in the post. Greg Gard will need to scheme a plan to get his offense back in rhythm or there will likely be a repeat of the Michigan State loss awaiting the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament.
  3. Postseason Michigan is back and looks to be dangerous as ever. John Beliein‘s program went a combined 15-2 in the 2017 and 2018 postseason — the Wolverines are the two-time defending Big Ten Tournament champions, and they went to the Sweet Sixteen and National Championship game in successive seasons. If this week’s results are any indication, Michigan seems bound for another successful postseason run. After a convincing win over Iowa in Friday’s quarterfinal, the Wolverines destroyed Minnesota in Saturday’s semifinal. Like in most of its victories this season, Michigan was led Saturday by junior floor general Zavier Simpson, who contributed 15 points and nine assists to the dominant effort. Sophomore forward Isaiah Livers came off the bench and poured in a career-high 21 points on an 8-of-10 shooting performance. The Wolverines entered the game second in the country in defensive efficiency and their suffocating effort on that end of the floor set the tone in the first half which allowed Michigan to go into halftime with an insurmountable 38-19 lead.
  4. Tomorrow’s Michigan State vs. Michigan championship game should be a dandy. Sunday’s title game will be the third time the Spartans and Wolverines will meet on the hardwood this season. Michigan State won the first two match-ups against its intrastate rival by using strong second half charges to emerge victorious. Tom Izzo and John Beliein are two of college basketball’s most talented tacticians and respected leaders. Cassius Winston and Zavier Simpson are two of the country’s most valuable point guards. If you are a college basketball fan, you will be well served to catch Sunday afternoon’s battle for the Big Ten Tournament title.

Quotable.

  • “Kenny (Goins) has probably been the guy that has changed our team throughout the last two and a half months. He is one of our best defenders. He is our best rebounder. He is maybe our best-conditioned guy, and he has really figured out how to shoot the ball and does it with high percentage.” – Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, commenting on the emergence of senior forward Kenny Goins.
  • “They obviously came out and they were knocking down almost every shot. They were hitting every three, getting to the rim, and things like that. I think we just have to start faster with a different mindset, especially on the defensive end.” – Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice, acknowledging how Michigan State’s quick start ultimately sealed his team’s fate.
  • “I am going to throw it in the green river.” – Minnesota coach Richard Pitino, describing what he is going to do with the game tape from his team’s blowout loss.
WCarey (299 Posts)


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