No Tom Izzo Team Has Faced a More Critical Big Ten Tournament

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Tom Izzo has earned the right to have a tough season, but don't count him out!  Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits

Tom Izzo has earned the right to have a tough season, but don't count him out! Photo courtesy of Bill Marklevits

 

Michigan State will be making a rare Thursday appearance in the Big Ten Tournament when the #7 seed (17-13) Spartans take on #10 seed Iowa (11-19) at approximately 5:00 PM EST.  Squarely on the NCAA bubble Michigan State needs at least one conference tournament victory and maybe two or even three to qualify Tom Izzo’s Spartans for their 14th straight NCAA appearance.  Iowa fresh off their big 65-63 upset over #6 Purdue will be a tough matchup but MSU will be favored. Should the Spartans advance they will face #2 seed Purdue who twice defeated the Spartans by double digit scores.

Last October, Kailin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green both said that this year’s goal is “National Championship or bust”. College basketball has three seasons. The November – December games are where coaches learn about their teams and try and pin down rotations playing a wildly disparaging schedule from games with top tier teams in largely made for TV games to home games against the mothers of the poor like Prarie View A&M.   MSU went 8-4 in the non-conference schedule with the most impressive win being the 76-71 victory over Washington in Maui.

The conference schedule is now an 18 game grinder where every team knows everything about the other and winning on the road is never easy. Witness Big Ten #2 Purdue losing out on a potential tie for the league championship in a loss at #10 Iowa on the final weekend of conference play.  MSU finished the Big Ten season 9-9 tied with Michigan, Illinois, and Penn State for fourth in the conference. In Big Ten Tournament seeding which is based on head to head records MSU at (2-4) finished behind #4 seed Michigan (4-1), #5 Illinois (3-2), and #6 Penn State who also was (2-4) but received the higher seed because they went 1-0 against Iowa, while MSU was 1-1.

 

Tom Izzo has been all about March and getting his teams to play their best basketball at tournament time.  This year the attrition of Chris Allen, and Korie Lucious leaves Izzo with fewer tournament quality options.  The 53-48 come from behind win at Minnesota on February 22 looked like a sign that the Spartans were getting ready for March but then Purdue smacked MSU at home by 20 points in one of Izzo’s worst Big Ten home losses and then went one and one the last week of the regular season. 

In the 13 year history of the Big Ten Tournament MSU’s only Thursday appearance was in 2006 when they were the #6 seed.  That team also went into the Big Ten Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse with a 500 conference record, at that time 8-8. Maurice Ager with 20 points led MSU to a 70-58 Thursday win over #11 seed Purdue.  Ager and Paul Davis scored 16 and Shannon Brown scored 14 in leading MSU to a Friday night 61-56 upset victory over then #9 ranked and #3 seed Illinois with lightning quick PG Dee Brown.  MSU held Shannon Brown’s high school buddy Dee to just five points on 2 of 10 shooting, after Brown had torched the Spartans for a 27.0 average in the two regular season MSU losses to the Fighting Illini.  The Spartans had no legs in Saturday’s first semifinal scoring a season low 48 points and shooting only 28.3 percent in a 53-48 loss to #2 seed Iowa the eventual tournament champion.  

Draymond Green has recently been plagued by a virus that has caused him to miss practice time, yesterday his timing at Michigan was off and he went 3-14 from the field missing several put backs that he normally converts.  Whether Green gets back to full strength in time for the Big Ten Tournament we will find out shortly. Senior PG Kailin Lucas is back at full strength and has put the team on his back, but he needs help from both Green and erratic Durrell Summers to make any noise in March.  To beat top tier teams like Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin, MSU needs three scoring options playing their best basketball.  Lewis, Summers, and Green have done it for MSU in the past, Tom Izzo needs them to ALL do it again starting this week. 

Teams that advance from Thursday to Friday in the Big Ten Tournament gain a familiarity with shooting at Conseco Fieldhouse and generally play well against the higher seeds and there have been numerous upsets. In 2001 #2 seed MSU was shocked by #7 Penn State 65-63, in 2005 #7 Iowa upset #2 MSU 71-69. In 2008 #10 Illinois knocked off #2 Purdue 74-67 in OT.   Tom Izzo is 13-11 all time in the BTT but the Spartans have not advanced past Saturday since Mateen Cleaves’ team won the 2000 Tournament for the second year in a row.  No MSU team has ever needed a strong Big Ten Tournament to qualify for the Big Dance more than this year.  Izzo says he has a week to get ready, stay tuned.