It’s been a familiar refrain all season long: when No. 22 Michigan State gets back to full strength they’re a serious national title contender. But as the season wore on injuries continued to add up, resulting in a lack of on-court cohesion that left more than a few skeptical that it would ever happen.
Michigan State’s play in Indianapolis this weekend may convert some of those skeptics, with the Spartans (25-8, 12-6) knocking off No. 12 Wisconsin by the final score of 83-75 to advance to Sunday’s Big Ten title game.
The Spartans shot 56% from the field and 7-for-13 from beyond the arc against Wisconsin (26-7, 12-6) , taking control of the game in the first half with their ability to not only string together stops but get out and run off of Badger misses as well. As a result, Tom Izzo’s team was able to find quality looks early in the shot clock as they kept Wisconsin from getting set in its half-court defense. And for a team that at times struggles with defending dribble penetration, this proved to be problematic for Wisconsin.
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Six players, including all five starters, reached double figures for Michigan State with Adreian Payne’s 18 points leading the way. The balanced scoring was a good sign moving forward for Michigan State, as was the fact that they committed just eight turnovers on the afternoon.
In Michigan State’s final four regular season games the Spartans averaged 15.3 turnovers per contest, going 1-3 as a result with the lone win coming against an Iowa team that’s been reeling of late. In the Big Ten tournament the Spartans are averaging just nine turnovers per game, and their assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.7 is a slight improvement over their ratio in regular season conference play (1.4).
Keith Appling (ten points, six assists) and Travis Trice (11 points, four assists) were responsible for ten of Michigan State’s 15 assists against Wisconsin, with each committing just one turnover. Wisconsin isn’t a team that will force a high number of turnovers, as opponents committed just 9.3 per game in Big Ten play, but there’s a need to be patient and not get into too much of a hurry against the Badgers. Michigan State was able to remain under control for much of the afternoon, and the play of their guards was a key reason why.
These games in Indianapolis represent valuable opportunities for a rotation that hasn’t had as much time to develop chemistry as Izzo would hope for during the season to become a more cohesive unit, and the Spartans have taken advantage in wins over Northwestern and Wisconsin. Sunday’s final against No. 8 Michigan will help as well, and the Michigan State team many held out hope would show up at some point is beginning to round into form at the right time.