Here comes the rubber match.
In a year that saw three Big Ten teams split the regular-season title (Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State), this year's tournament was the opportunity for one of those teams to prove they were the conference's best.
Michigan State won the first matchup on Feb. 11, 58-48. But Ohio State had its vengeance on March 4, not only beating Michigan State (72-70) but also preventing the Spartans from winning the Big Ten regular-season title outright.
This game isn't just about conference pride, of course—it's very likely the winner will get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
And there will be no shortage of stars on either side gunning for the win.
The Buckeyes have one of the nation's best players in Jared Sullinger. Deshaun Thomas (15.5 PPG) and William Buford (14.8 PPG) are no slouches, either.
Michigan State counters with constant double-double threat Draymond Green (16.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG) and great depth behind him.
No doubt, this will be the game of the day. But that's what you get when the two best teams from the nation's most competitive conference this year do battle on Selection Sunday.
Prediction: MSU 71, OSU 64
Spartans Win Close One And Should Secure NCAA Tournament One-Seed
Much as your humble narrator predicted, Michigan State survived an excellent matchup, winning 68-64.
Draymond Green struggled throughout, shooting 4-15 from the field for only 12 points, though he did snare nine rebounds and hit perhaps the biggest shot of the game, a key three-pointer with 1:34 remaining that gave the Spartans a 67-62 lead.
The difference in this game probably came down to the Michigan State players creating shots for one another. The Spartans finished with 16 assists; the Buckeyes managed only six.
But Michigan State also shot the ball better, shooting 48.1 percent compared to Ohio State's 39.7 percent.
That proved to be huge for the Spartans as Ohio State didn't give them a ton of second-chance opportunities, out-rebounding Michigan State 35-27 and doubled them in offensive rebounds (14 for Ohio State to seven for the Spartans.
Michigan State now has an extremely strong claim to be a one-seed. Between a split regular-season title, a conference tournament championship (in the country's best conference), the toughest strength of schedule in the nation and 11 wins against teams with a top-50 RPI, they've more than proved they are one of the four best teams in America.
Spartans Thriving Without Strong Showing From Draymond Green
The Michigan State star has only managed nine points on 3-12 shooting from the field. The 21 points from Brandon Wood and a strong defensive effort from Michigan State has made up for Green's rough outing.
Meanwhile, Ohio State has shown balance. They've been paced by Sullinger's 16 points, but Lenzelle Smith, Jr. (10 points), William Buford (10 points) and Deshaun Thomas (11 points) have all stepped up as well.
Michigan State leads 62-57 with 5:45 remaining.
Wood On Fire
As quickly as Ohio State went up seven, the Spartans responded, scoring 10 unanswered points to take a 55-52 lead with 11:38 remaining in the game
The catalyst for the quick turn in momentum was Brandon Wood, who sunk two straight shots from beyond the arc to give him 19 points for the game, leading all scorers.
Quite frankly, this game is college basketball at its finest.
Ladies and gentlemen, Jared Sullinger is back in the building. After only scoring four points in the first half, he's exploded for nine points early in the second to bring him to 13 points total.
The pace of scoring has picked up as well, with both teams starting to feel it from beyond the arc.
Ohio State has claimed momentum early, and they lead 52-45 with 13:56 remaining in the second half.
Riding the See-Saw
Talk about a hotly-contested matchup—this game has already seen three ties and 12 lead changes, and we've only reached at halftime.
It looked like Michigan State was on a late surge to close the half, taking a 34-29 lead and seeming to have the game's momentum. But after a scrappy bucket down low and a technical foul, Ohio State quickly cut the deficit to 34-32, and that's where we are at the half.
Ohio State has been led by guards William Buford (10 points) and Aaron Craft (six points, five rebounds), while Michigan State has been led by Draymond Green (seven points, four rebounds), Brandon Wood (seven points) and Derrick Nix (six points, two assists).
This one has all the makings of an excellent second half and classic finish. Stay tuned.
Battle in the Paint
Not surprisingly, this game has been a war in the paint, with Michigan State having the slight advantage in scoring down low, 18-16.
This game will most certainly be won in the basketball trenches.
Michigan State leads 25-24 with 3:55 remaining in the first half.
No Shortage of Effort
It's obvious that both of these teams want this one badly and understand the implications of this game. The defense has been intense and both squads are running the floor after each turnover, trying to steal easy buckets in transition.
This game may come down to which team can win the battle on the glass, and which squad can hit the open shots they manage to get. These two teams early seem evenly matched in every regard.
One thing to keep an eye on: Jared Sullinger has picked up his second foul early.
Ohio State is winning 18-17 with 8:37 remaining.
Both Defenses Come Out Strong
At the first break with 15:37 remaining in the first half, Michigan State has the early 7-4 lead.
Not surprisingly, both defenses have been strong early, aggressively pressuring the ball and contesting shots. Both squads have played stifling defense all season long—Ohio State is 11th in the country in points allowed (58.5), and Michigan State is 12th (58.7).
Early on, this game has all the makings of a fun, physical battle.
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