Two of the very best in the country are set to throw down in the Big Ten on Saturday afternoon, postseason implications aplenty.
Michigan State is #4 in the country, 23–3 overall and 11–2 in the Big Ten. Purdue is #3 but set to drop after losing for the first time in 20 games against Ohio State earlier this week. The Boilermakers are also 23–3 and 12–1 in the Big Ten.
For weeks now, Villanova, Virginia and Purdue have been consensus projections for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State, despite have lost only three games all season — including the second game of its season against Duke — hasn’t been much part of the discussion. I’ve even seen some bracketologists forecast it as a #3 and I’ve struggled to understand why.
Not only is Sparty ranked #4 in the country and set to move up to #2 or #3 with a win at home this evening, but its losses have been ok: Duke on a neutral floor, at Ohio State and versus Michigan. The latter loss did hurt it chances, though.
The biggest argument Michigan State is going up against is its place in its own conference. Ohio State has been tremendous this season. It has beaten Purdue and Michigan State and will have a stranglehold on the regular season title if the Spartans win on their home floor this evening. Despite the season OSU has had, it’s nowhere near the conversation for a #1 seed and off of most people’s Final Four radars. That’s a qualm for another day, though.
Michigan State’s only chance at winning the regular season title and getting back into the discussion for a #1 seed, is winning this game. If the Spartans win, they move into a tie with Purdue and hold the tiebreaker. They would still need some major help because there would be two games to make up on Ohio State due to the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Does any of this really matter when it comes to picking the best teams in March? Aside from seeding, not really. Michigan State has been my favorite, outside of Villanova, all season and that won’t change if it wins or loses a regular season game, or even a conference title. That said, this will be an excellent game worthy of your time and action too.
I do think Michigan State wins this game but the three-point spread is appropriate. Purdue is terrific in its own right and won’t get blown out. I’m fairly sure of that.
Instead, I’m looking at the total. Michigan State has the best defense in the country. The perimeter defense is always terrific and this season the Spartans have some of the best rim protection I have seen out of any team in college basketball in a long time. They don’t give up strength, nor size, at any position and work seamlessly as a unit, as much as Tom Izzo still says they have to work on (it’s what makes Izzo such a good coach).
But the Spartans have also shown an ability to win shootouts. See their last game at Iowa, a 96–93 win. MSU has beaten Indiana twice, once with with 85 points and another time with 63. The game with Duke early on was played up in the 80s.
I don’t see that happening in this one, though. Most of MSU’s Big Ten wins have been in the 60s and 70s and I don’t anticipate either team will be especially excited to run and attack the other’s defense in this game.
Both teams have the size to matchup with the other and while they can shoot the three, it isn’t a primary tool in either team’s offense.
I expect this game to be a little slow and even a little offensively barren for stretches, played down in the 60s and maybe 70s and to finish under a relatively high total.
Free Pick: Under 148