We had plenty of outstanding performances in Friday’s Big Ten Tournament action. Michigan notched a win over Illinois on a game-winning shot. Ohio State rallied from an 18-point second-half deficit to defeat Nebraska. And both Wisconsin and Michigan State looked outstanding in blowout wins over Minnesota and Northwestern, respectively.
So, we ask: Which Big Ten team had the most impressive performance on Friday? BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart and BTN.com web editor Sean Merriman debate that question here.
Merriman: I’m going with Michigan State, simply because Tom Izzo’s squad went out and played like the team everyone expected to see on the court this season. Izzo was not shy about saying that this may be the most important Big Ten Tournament during his time at MSU. That’s not because MSU is fighting for a higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, but because this group has been so banged up this season and they need as many games as possible to play with each other as a unit before the big dance gets underway. The Spartans dominated this contest from start to finish, shooting 45 percent from the field and out-rebounding the Wildcats 40-24, which as any Big Ten fan knows, is a staple of Michigan State basketball.
Dienhart: Nice call on the Spartans. They did look impressive. But remember this: They played the No. 11-seeded team in Northwestern. Let’s not print T-shirts just yet. A better call is my team: Wisconsin. The Badgers didn’t just beat a Minnesota team that was fighting for its NCAA life … they HAMMERED the Gophers, 83-57. And Wisconsin tallied all of those points with Sam Dekker, Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky combining for a scant 16 points. Scary, huh? Yep.
Merriman: I think you pulled that stat from our good friend @BTNBrentYarina, didn’t you? Either way, yes, that is quite a scary stat, and one that shows how well-rounded this Wisconsin team is. But since we’re on the topic of being well-rounded, how about this stat for you: Michigan State won by 16 tonight with Adreian Payne and Keith Appling combining for 11 total points. Also, not a single player on the team took more than 12 shots tonight. Yes, this is Northwestern we’re talking about, but it’s the same Northwestern team that beat an Iowa squad last night that many considered a Final Four contender at one point this season. Well, maybe not many, but there were some people who did, I promise.
Dienhart: The Badgers were at their full-throttle best on this night, showing why they are the No. 2 seed and perhaps even the best team in the Big Ten. Unlike past Wisconsin squads under Bo Ryan, this one is uber-skilled offensively. Four players were in double-figures tonight. And the same gritty attention to detail remained on defense, while the squad committed only seven turnovers. No one wowed more on Friday. Go back and watch the highlights.
Merriman: Well then, it looks like we have quite a dandy of a matchup tomorrow between the Spartans and Badgers, don’t we? I’m really impressed with Michigan State’s depth. All those injuries allowed some of these bench players to get valuable playing time during that stretch, which will be needed if this team is going to make a run in the tournament. Travis Trice and Kenny Kaminski combined to shoot 5-of-7 from 3-point range, while Matt Costello helped do a bang-up defensive job on Northwestern big man Alex Olah, who has been putting up big numbers as of late. Michigan State held Northwestern to 51 points; Wisconsin held Minnesota to 57 points. You excited for tomorrow?
Dienhart: Yep, I am excited for both games. Fierce rivals Michigan and Ohio State square off in one game. And Wisconsin-Michigan State battle in the other. I think the Wolverine-Buckeye game will be a lot like the Michigan-Illinois game today, as OSU and the Illini are very similar. So, playing Illinois was a good tune-up for Michigan. Wisconsin-Michigan State pits two of the league’s top coaches—and lots of skill talent. Can the Badgers match the Spartans’ physical style? This may come down to defense and turnovers. For Wisconsin to win, it can’t be hammered on the boards and likely will need to hit around 8-10 three-pointers. Gonna be good to watch!