The first game between the Buckeyes and Wolverines does follow seeding, but still comes as somewhat of a surprise. The Buckeyes looked exceedingly vulnerable in their first round win over Northwestern. Unlike in the past couple of weeks, when ball movement and top-notch passing had been the signature strengths of their team, Ohio State only had three assists for the entire game against Northwestern and too often looked stagnant on the offensive end. Thad Matta had expressed just how happy he was with his team's development coming into the Big Ten tournament, but Saturday's game will tell us whether the Friday performance was simply an aberration or a sign of potential problems that could be creeping in.
Ohio State's opponent Michigan, comes in having likely assured itself of a NCAA tournament berth and can now focus on trying to play a good game against its rival. The Wolverines have been terrible against Ohio State over the past few years, but this season both games have been competitive. John Beilein has gotten a good one-two scoring punch from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris, the latter of which was great in the victory over Illinois on Friday. If Michigan is to have any chance of pulling the upset, both players must be able to score effectively and find a way to limit the possessions of the big guys down low for Ohio State. In both prior losses, interior points have been the difference and that will once again have to be the focus for Michigan.
In the second semifinal, the story is all about Michigan State and the resurgence once again under Tom Izzo in March. Coming into the Big Ten tournament, it wasn't even clear that the Spartans were assured a berth in the NCAA tournament. But as always, Izzo has his team playing the best when it matters the most. Kalin Lucas was brilliant against Purdue on Friday, scoring 30 points in an absolute embarrassment of a team that still considered itself to be an outside contender for a No. 1 seed. As with all Izzo teams, this Spartan group has turned up the March heat by ramping up defensive intensity and making fewer mistakes. It has been a recipe for success in the first two games of this tournament and with a win on Saturday, could get Michigan State back to an unlikely conference title game.
As for Penn State, the upset win against Wisconsin was probably (a) the ugliest game in the history of organized basketball and (b) enough to get the Nittany Lions in the NCAA tournament. The game on Friday night featured the fewest possessions of any college basketball game since 1998...an amazing statistic that showcases just bizarre a game it actually was to watch. But all that matters to Penn State's players and coaches is the result, and with the win the entire postseason has opened up. A win over Michigan State would remove all doubt as to the team's future, and because the Lions only scored 36 points on Friday night, they should have plenty of energy left to score the necessary points on Saturday.
Posted by Matt Jones
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