Although the No. 3 Indiana Hoosiers were able to win the Big Ten Conference regular-season championship outright, the league tournament will be wide open, and the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans have more than enough motivation and talent to make it through this deep field.
After missing out on a share of a second consecutive Big Ten title, the Spartans enter this week's postseason event hungry to make up for their shortcomings.
If any evidence of this is needed, look no further than what head coach Tom Izzo told the Green and White faithful last Sunday.
"I want everybody in this building to understand one thing. You got yourself a blue-collar coach that's never been given anything, and I don't want anything from anybody else in this state," Izzo said in reference to needing the Michigan Wolverines to beat Indiana to create a four-way tie atop the Big Ten standings (mlive.com).
"Sure, I would have liked to have had another Big Ten championship," Izzo elaborated. "But I want to get one when I earn it; I don't need anybody else earning it for me."
Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament last year, and will be a tough out once again this season thanks to Izzo's determination.
In addition to how fired up the Spartans will be, they are in the easier half of the tournament bracket. Michigan State will face the winner of the Iowa Hawkeyes and Northwestern Wildcats first-round battle. The Spartans are 2-0 against those teams this season.
The Ohio State Buckeyes will more than likely await the Spartans in the semifinals. The two split the regular-season series, though Michigan State holds the advantage on paper given the neutral setting.
Dodging Indiana, who swept the Spartans this year, in this round is a major plus as well.
Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix will dominate the paint, much like they did in the earlier meetings. The difference this time for Michigan State will need to be slowing down junior point guard Aaron Craft.
Look for Keith Appling to do a much better job of keeping Craft out of the lane and relegate him to the perimeter. Craft poured in 21 points in the Buckeyes' win on Feb. 24. In Michigan State's victory, Craft had just five points.
Once the Spartans make it through the semifinals, they would meet either the Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana or Michigan.
Michigan State managed to sweep Wisconsin, were only a point away from taking both games from Michigan and lost both contests to Indiana by a combined nine points. The Spartans will not fear any of those teams.
There is not much separating the top five Big Ten teams on paper, but the Spartans' burning desire for a league title will set them apart from everyone else in Chicago this weekend.
Expect Michigan State to emerge from one of the deepest fields in the history of the Big Ten tournament.
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