Ohio St.-Michigan St. Preview
The three previous Michigan State teams to enter the Big Ten tournament as the No. 2 seed reached the Final Four, something the Spartans have done seven times since 1999.
Coach Tom Izzo has only one national championship to show for it, though, and after the second-ranked Spartans finished routing Ohio State for the second time this season Saturday, senior Denzel Valentine proclaimed he had no plans to leave the program without giving Izzo a second title.
The Spartans' postseason journey begins in Friday night's quarterfinals as they look to win a fifth straight meeting with the Buckeyes.
Michigan State (26-5) won the Big Ten tournament in 2000 as the second seed and went on to win Izzo's only national championship. The 2001 and 2005 squads bowed out in the quarterfinal round but turned it on again in the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartans reached the Final Four as a No. 7 seed last year and are a favorite to make it to Houston led by Valentine, who is averaging 19.6 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists and can become the first player to finish with those numbers since the NCAA began counting assists as an official stat in 1983-84.
The Wooden Award finalist had 27 points and a career high-tying 13 assists in Saturday's 91-76 win over the Buckeyes to finish 13-5 in league play.
''We didn't win the Big Ten (regular-season) championship, but we can win two more championships,'' Valentine said. ''Three wins for a Big Ten championship, but hopefully nine more. That's what the goal is - nine more.''
Michigan State has won 10 of its last 11, and Izzo told the crowd on Senior Night that he believes this squad has what it takes to win six NCAA Tournament games. Having a national player of the year candidate and the country's second-leading 3-point shooter sure helps.
Bryn Forbes is hitting 50.5 percent from deep despite going 1 for 6 in the last meeting with Ohio State (20-12). He torched the Buckeyes in the first matchup Feb. 23, though, scoring 27 points while hitting 7 3s in an 81-62 victory.
Forbes is averaging 20 points while hitting 55.9 percent from the field during the Spartans' six-game winning streak. The senior hit a Big Ten-record 11 3-pointers for a career-high 33 points at Rutgers on March 2.
''Last year was a pretty good year, making it to the Final Four,'' Forbes said. ''I think we're doing pretty well this year and we've got high hopes, trying to do even better than last year.''
Ohio State's more modest goal is to extend its NCAA Tournament streak to eight years, and upsetting the Spartans certainly would impress the selection committee. Most experts currently project it to be out of the field of 68.
The seventh-seeded Buckeyes have gone 6-2 since Feb. 9, with the only setbacks being against Michigan State. They've also been playing without standout sophomore Jae'Sean Tate since he had season-ending shoulder surgery Feb. 26.
Marc Loving scored 24 points and freshman JaQuan Lyle added 22 in Ohio State's 79-75 second-round win over Penn State on Thursday. Loving has scored 40 points while going 10 of 17 from the floor against the Spartans this season, and Lyle has 34 with a 52.2 field-goal percentage.
Michigan State shot 66.7 percent Saturday, its best mark in more than nine years.
"The first thing is we're going to have to defend and do a great job doing that," coach Thad Matta said. "And we're going to have to play harder and we're going to have to play smarter. Anything can happen now."
Valentine scored 23 points to help Michigan State beat the Buckeyes 76-67 in last year's quarterfinals.