by Mike Stewart
The title game of the Big Ten Tournament comes down to two of the nation's best teams, as the Ohio State Buckeyes face off against the Michigan State Spartans for the right to be crowned the conference champion.
Though they are ranked No. 7 in the nation and won of share of the Big Ten regular-season title, Ohio State lost out on the tiebreaker and earned the third seed, though it has had no effect on its performance thus far. The Buckeyes dominated their first two games against Purdue and Michigan by a combined margin of 39 points, pulling their overall record to 27-6. The Buckeyes are back-to-back defending tournament champions, and is attempting to become the first team to win three straight titles.
The Spartans have done what was expected of them so far in the tournament as the top seed. After earning a first-round bye, Michigan State made easy work of Iowa in the quarterfinals, 92-75, then it cruised to a 65-52 victory over 14th-ranked Wisconsin in the semifinals. MSU now sports an overall record of 26-7, and if it can pull off a win today it would be its first tournament title since winning back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000.
After wading through one of the toughest tournament fields in the nation, whoever is crowned the champion this afternoon will have a legitimate shot at being named a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when the selections are made later today.
The teams split the season series this year, with each squad winning on the other's home floor. Most recently it was Ohio State claiming a 72-70 decision a week ago today in the regular-season finale, closing Michigan State's gap on the all-time series to 64-54.
Ohio State was in control wire-to-wire in its semifinal match with second- seeded Michigan, as it avenged a five-point loss to the Wolverines on Feb. 18. The Buckeyes were stellar on offense, connecting on 49.2 percent of their field goals. They were even more impressive on defense, forcing Michigan into more turnovers (18) than field goals made (17). They were fueled on the afternoon by a pair of huge performances from All-American Jared Sullinger (24 points, six boards, two blocks) and Deshaun Thomas (22 points, six boards). Sullinger has been a beast all season, leading the team in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (9.4 rpg), while shooting 54.4 percent from the floor. OSU (75.0 ppg) has no shortage of weapons, as Thomas scores 15.3 ppg and William Buford adds 15 ppg to the mix. The Buckeyes also play great defense, ranking second in the Big Ten in points allowed per game (58.9), with Aaron Craft being the catalyst on that end of the floor, swiping 2.4 steals per contest as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
Michigan State made things look easy in its 13-point victory over Wisconsin in Saturday's semifinals, making 50 percent of its field goals against the nation's top-ranked scoring defense. The Spartans have been no slouch on defense either, ranking 12th nationally in allowing 58.7 ppg. They proved themselves once again in the win, holding the Badgers to just 34.7 percent from the field and 52 points. Draymond Green continued his torrid season, tallying 14 points and 16 rebounds for his third straight double-double, while he also added five assists. As the Big Ten Player of the Year, Green is put up monster numbers across the stat sheet this season, averaging 16.3 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 1.0 bpg, and 1.4 three-pointers per game. Green is hardly the only threat for the third-ranked offense in the conference (72.5 ppg). Keith Appling chips in 11.5 ppg and a team-best 3.9 apg, while Branden Dawson (8.4 ppg) and Brandon Wood (8.2 ppg) are also solid contributors.
The Big Ten Tournament championship comes down to a matchup that many people expected and hoped for. These two have been neck-and-neck all season long as the conference's best team, and both possess star power and stout defenses. Sullinger and company will make the game exciting to the bitter end for the Buckeyes, but it will be Green and the Spartans who will be hoisting the trophy when the clock hits zero.
Las Vegas Sports Betting Prediction: Michigan State 68, Ohio State 66
aaron craft - bankers life fieldhouse - branden dawson - brandon wood - deshaun thomas - draymond green - jared sullinger - michigan state spartans - ohio state buckeyes - william buford