BTN.com senior write Tom Dienhart is in Indianapolis covering every game. On the first semifinal, Dienhart wrote, “Yes, it wasn’t vintage Draymond Green from a scoring standpoint, but the senior found a way to contribute in a number of ways. Green was a monster on the glass, grabbing 16 rebounds.” Read it all now. On the second semifinal, Dienhart wrote, “Right out of the gate, Ohio State jetted to a 16-3 lead and never looked back. At one point, the Buckeyes’ lead grew to 28 points late in the second half. The Wolverines were undone by poor shooting, hitting 1-of-13 three-pointers.” Read it all now.
Off the court Friday, Illinois fired Bruce Weber, and the coach gave an emotional farewell. Then, Nebraska fired Doc Sadler, who also gave a touching final statement at Nebraska. And in a remarkable statement, Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo shared his thoughts on Weber’s firing (watch the Izzo video also in this post).
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Wisconsin
Tom Dienhart’s key matchup: Badger point guard Jordan Taylor vs. Spartan lead guard Keith Appling. Each will do their best to get teammates involved as a passer and penetrator. And each also is capable of generating offense, showing aplomb as a shooter and skill off the dribble. Don’t overlook the defensive component, either. Appling is quicker than Jordan, but Jordan is stronger and a senior who is savvier than his sophomore counterpart, who is in his first season on the job.
This season’s meetings: The Spartans took both meetings, with the victory in Madison being cloaked in a bit of controversy. Trailing 63-60 in the first overtime with time running out, the Badgers’ Ryan Evans launched a three-pointer that went it to apparently tie the game. But officials ruled the shot didn’t get off before the final buzzer, nullifying the bucket and sending Michigan State home a victor on January 3. The meeting in East Lansing wasn’t as close, with the Spartans taking a 69-55 victory on February 16. It was MSU’s largest margin of victory in the series since February 2000, as Draymond Green had 20 points and 10 boards to lead the way with Keith Appling also going for 20. The Spartans have won four straight in the series and six of seven.
Dienhart’s pick: Have to go with Michigan State. The Spartans dispatched Iowa with ruthless defense and toughness, showing that two-game losing funk they experienced to end the regular season is over. Yes, Branden Dawson’s skills at the rim will be missed, but this is a deep Michigan State team that can match Wisconsin’s defensive intensity—and the Spartans also have an edge inside with beef eaters like Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix who figure to be matchup problems for Wisconsin.
No. 2 Michigan vs. 3 Ohio State
Key matchup: Jared Sullinger vs. Jordan Morgan. The Michigan big man will have his hands full battling Sullinger, who is coming off a 30-point effort in a win over Purdue. If Sullinger avoids foul trouble, he could have another huge game. Another matchup to watch is point guards Aaron Craft vs. Trey Burke. Craft is the top defender in the Big Ten and can’t let Burke go off for 30 points like he did vs. Minnesota today.
This season’s meetings: The rivals split their meetings this season with Ohio State taking a 64-49 win on January 29 in Columbus and Michigan claiming a 56-51 triumph in Ann Arbor on February 18. Lenzelle Smith Jr. did a bit of everything in the scoring 17 points with a career-high 12 rebounds on a day Jared Sullinger was in foul trouble. Trey Burke propelled Michigan to victory in Ann Arbor with 17 points, including the game-winning runner with 11 seconds left. The victory snapped a six-game losing skid to Ohio State. This meeting in the semifinals will be a rubber match.
Dienhart’s pick: I like Ohio State. The Buckeyes have won three in a row and four of five, playing with a purpose on both ends. This team has an inside-outside presence that’s difficult to defend. And I don’t think Michigan can contend with it. The Wolverines’ best hope is to get Sullinger in foul trouble by attacking him and hope guys like Zack Novak, Stu Douglass, Burke, Tim Hardaway and Evan Smotrycz shoot lights out for a hot Michigan team that has won eight of 10. Should be fun.
Also, Dienhart is posting instant video reactions from the Big Ten Tournament after each game (see below). And the bonus? You can submit your Big Ten football and men’s basketball questions below and Dienhart will provide video answers to as many as he can. Try it out now – our reporter tries to answer all questions in a timely manner.