Both the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans have had considerable down years in basketball this season. The Wolverines are 20-11 on the season, sitting at 8th place in the Big Ten Conference while the Spartans are 18-13 and are currently 5th place in the conference. While this may be uncharacteristic for both teams, the two squads are still vying for a tournament bid. A spot in the big dance would be the 20th consecutive appearance for Tom Izzo’s Michigan State team, putting them one spot behind the fourth longest in college basketball history. For Michigan, a tournament berth would be the payoff for long season in which the players have worked extremely hard. Both the Wolverines and Spartans will need to impress the selection committee with these next few Big Ten Tournament games; here’s what else they need to do.
For the Wolverines, earning big wins against Wisconsin and Purdue at home is definitely appealing to the committee’s eyes. Bad losses against Virginia Tech and South Carolina aren’t ideal for Michigan’s resume, but South Carolina is a projected tournament team. It was how terrible they played that makes the loss stand out. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has Michigan projected as a #9 seed, matched up against Miami (Hurricanes) in the East region. Michigan will need to make a run in the Big Ten Tournament if they want to solidify that projection. Their first game is against an underrated Illinois Fighting Illini. Senior guard Derrick Walton Jr has to have a big game, putting the scoring responsibilities on his shoulders and getting the bigs like DJ Wilson and Mark Donnal involved. They will also desperately need one of their big shooting nights from Duncan Robinson and Muhammad Ali Abdur Rahkman. The Wolverines are expected to be in the tournament, which has been a constant in the last few years, but they’ll need to do their job, and not just rely on Lunardi’s projection.
The Spartans, led by four spectacular freshmen, haven’t had the success of a regular Tom Izzo team, but even in a down season, they’re still in the hunt to make a patented deep tournament run. An underdog, by some means, Izzo usually surprises the country and takes these types of teams to the Final Four. Big Ten Freshman of the Year Miles Bridges leads MSU in scoring with 16.6 points per game. Freshman point guard Cassius Winston leads the Big Ten in assists at 5.4 per game. However, Coach Izzo decided to schedule very tough teams in Arizona, Kentucky, and Duke at the very beginning of the season, all resulting in losses. The Spartans then lost crucial games down the road like a cupcake in Northeastern, then went on a 3-game losing streak in January. MSU did earn some decent victories, beating Wichita State in Atlantis and defeating Minnesota twice. Like Michigan, Michigan State needs to make a big run in the Big Ten Tournament, and needs some leadership, really from anywhere, if they want to do some real work in the NCAA Tournament.