Saturday primers: Serious starpower in these semis

The Big Ten tourney semifinal field is set, and it will be No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 5 Ohio State and No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Michigan State. Hard to complain about those matchups, huh? Get Tom Dienhart’s previews to both games, plus vote for your winners, in this post.

[ MORE: Get all of our Big Ten tourney coverage ]

No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 5 Ohio State

The skinny on Michigan: The Wolverines were pushed to the max by No. 9 Illinois before carving out a 64-63 victory after the Illini’s final shot lipped off the rim. Defense hasn’t been a strength of the Wolverines all season. And, that hasn’t changed in Indianapolis at the Big Ten tourney, where the team has pushed its winning streak to six games. But Michigan’s offense has been very good. Few teams can match the Wolverines’ firepower from the perimeter. Much like Illinois, Ohio State will bring a hard defensive edge that will frustrate Michigan at times. To counter that Buckeyes defense, the Wolverines need to score in transition.

Key number:
10, three-pointers for Michigan in its win over Illinois. Hitting from long range has been a big key to the Wolverines’ success this season. And that must continue from guys like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, Derrick Walton, Jr., and Caris LeVert.

The skinny on Ohio State: The Buckeyes have had issues in the half court all season. This team struggles to shoot consistently. But LaQuinton Ross has been a revelation. He had 19 points and a career-high 15 rebounds vs. Purdue and 26 points and 13 rebounds vs. Nebraska. In fact, Ross has scored 19 or more points in each of the last five games. Without a doubt, he is the early leader for tourney MVP honors. But what makes Ohio State go is defense. It’s tough. It’s physical. It’s the best get-under-your-skin defense in the Big Ten. Thank you, Aaron Craft.

Key number: 21, Ohio State’s points off the bench. The Buckeyes got a huge lift from seldom-used Amedeo Della Valle, who chipped in 12 points and six boards. He was the only other Ohio State player in double-figures vs. Nebraska.

Up next: The winner will meet the victor of the No. 2 Wisconsin-No. 3 Michigan State game for the Big Ten title.

No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Michigan State

The skinny on Wisconsin: The Badgers saw an eight-game winning streak end in the season finale at Nebraska. But Wisconsin got back on track in a big way vs. Minnesota. This is a skilled offensive team that scores in transition and in the half court. There is plenty of skill, with players like Frank Kaminsky, Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust, Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker and Josh Gasser. The defense isn’t as sticky as it used to be, but it’s still solid. And Wisconsin also takes care of the ball, as turnovers are limited.

Key number:
7, which was Wisconsin’s turnover total in its win over Minnesota. Limiting turnovers always is a trademark of Bo Ryan teams. And it’s another reason why this Badgers’ squad has a shot for a deep run in the Big Ten tourney—and the NCAA tourney. This is a smart, well-coached team that rarely beats itself.

The skinny on Michigan State: The Spartans arrived in Indianapolis needing some mojo after finishing the season going 5-7. And MSU got just that, drumming Northwestern in its opening game. Michigan State got contributions from many sources. This is a team that has struggled to find its groove because of injuries that have riddled the team. And Tom Izzo also has questioned the squad’s toughness. The second season provides another opportunity to get on track for a team hyped by most to be the best in the Big Ten after earning a preseason No. 2 seed from the AP. Was this a coming out party?

Key number: 16, offensive rebounds MSU had vs. Northwestern. The Spartans are relentless on the glass, notching 40 rebounds total vs. the Wildcats. And getting offensive boards often leads to easy put-back hoops. To wit: MSU had 20 second-chance points vs. NU.

Up next: The winner will play the victor of the No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 5 Ohio State game for the Big Ten title on Sunday.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.

Find out more about:

3 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (3 Comments)
John on 3/14/2014 @ 11:50pm EDT Said:

The semis should be something to watch!!

Spartan in Los Angeles on 3/15/2014 @ 8:54am EDT Said:

My Spartan Dawgs are focused and hungry, Wisconsin deserves respect and its going to be a grinder, but they have no answer for Dawson he is destroying everything in his path.

Dave Dorn on 3/15/2014 @ 12:21pm EDT Said:

MSU may be getting everything right at the right time of year, like always, still hoping Bucky can continue, onto the title game, but the winner of this game wins the B10 in my opinion, On Wisconsin