I went ahead to the morning of March 5th and returned with this nugget for you all:
March 5th, Ann Arbor, MI –
There is no such thing as a play-in game in conference basketball, though there is a first time for everything. As Michigan prepares to host MSU tonight at Crisler arena, both teams know what’s at stake and both will be playing, essentially, for their tournament lives.
The Michigan wolverines, sitting at 19-11, 9-8 conference, have really taken control of their season, winning six of their last seven, dropping only a home game against conference No. 2, Wisconsin. They have put themselves squarely on the bubble for the NCAA tournament.
The MSU Spartans, meanwhile, have also found a bit of themselves over the past few weeks, finishing the homestretch 4-2, leaving them at 17-12, also with a 9-8 conference record, but with a tougher NC schedule and a better national perspective. This also places them squarely on the NCAA bubble.
Now, the problem. The Big Ten has OSU, Wisconsin, Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois ticketed for the dance already. The conference almost certainly will not get seven berths. And so, with also-rans Northwestern and Penn State on the outside looking in, the picture becomes clear. One of these teams, but not both, is going dancing. Tonight for our viewing pleasure, right here in Ann Arbor, these young men are going to play their guts out to find out which one.
- The Season So Far:
Michigan: For a team that was supposed to be too young to accomplish much, early season non-conference success brought whispers of an NCAA Tourney bid in the making. Then, close losses to No. 2 Kansas and No. 1 OSU in back-to-back games seemed to take it out of the wolverines, and they followed up with clunkers and aimless fluttering through several ugly Big Ten losses. It was not until this young team rallied to beat MSU at the Breslin center, something that had not happened in better than a decade, that they really began to figure out what they were.
Led by veterans Zack Novak and Darius Morris and supported by a talented freshman class including Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan, this team has found a method and a special type of leadership to rise above their youth. Expect a lot of threes from Novak if he can get open, some solid passing from Morris, and some interesting sets devised by head coach John Beilein.
MSU: Michigan State basketball is a program all but synonymous with top flight talent and perpetuated success. Though not lacking in the first, the second has been hard to come by this season. Early season losses were brushed aside as MSU faced some of the best teams in the nation. However, entering conference play, things got no easier for the Spartans. A lack of chemistry has left head coach Tom Izzo scratching his head, and meant the dismissal of one Korie Lucious and a bevy of tough losses.
Still, all that talent has come through when dearly needed, and has given MSU a chance to continue their impressive tournament streak. With no clear leader, it’s hard to know what to expect from the Spartans on any given night, but it’s likely that Tom Izzo will have some clever schemes to continue the minor winning streak that has rescued MSU from utter failure to the least chance of earning a berth.
One of these teams will make the tournament. For the other, it’ll be Big Ten tourney champions or bust. There is enough talent and skill to send the game either way. All that’s left is to play one of the most important games ever in this series. In Ann Arbor, you can cut the tension with a knife.