It's an all-Michigan affair in the Big Ten final. The top-seeded Michigan Wolverines turned away a tough Ohio State team Saturday to reach the final. Their rivals from East Lansing have hit their stride at the right time.
After stumbling down the stretch of the regular season, the Michigan State Spartans snuffed out Wisconsin to punch their ticket. The Wolverines swept the regular-season series, but this figures to be an epic finale to an exciting Big Ten tournament.
Despite the Wolverines' two wins during the season, they come into Sunday's final as underdogs, according to VegasInsider.com (via mlive.com and Michigan State News):
Think that's going to be motivation for Michigan to beat its rival for a third straight time? The Wolverines will be amped, but it's very hard to beat a good team three times in a row.
This one is going to be good.
Here's how you can watch:
When: Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports
Live Stream: CBSSports.com
If Michigan wins, it most certainly deserves a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It will have won eight games in a row, which would include two wins over the Spartans. With Kansas failing to reach the Big 12 tournament final and Villanova getting upset in the Big East tournament, there would appear to be a top seed open for the Wolverines to snatch.
Michigan State won't get a top seed, but capturing the conference tournament will improve its resume and possibly land it a top-four seed in the region.
According to ESPN's Joe Lunardi, the Wolverines are predicted to land as the top seed in the East region and the Spartans as the fourth seed in the Midwest region.
If that holds true, the next time these two teams could meet could be for the national championship. That may sound far-fetched, but both seem to be peaking at the right time.
Here's a closer look at the matchup.
Michigan Will Win If...
It makes over 40 percent of its three-point shots. The Wolverines are 13-1 when they hit that magic percentage. As one of the top shooting teams in the nation overall (20th), the number of shooters Michigan possesses gives opponents fits.
Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Nik Stauskas is perhaps the deadliest bomber. He's averaging 17.5 points per game and knocking down 44.5 percent of his long-range attempts. In the two wins over the Spartans, Stauskas is averaging 22 points, and he has made eight of 11 three-point attempts.
Michigan State must extend its defense to slow the Wolverines' three-point barrage.
Michigan State Will Win If...
It finds a way to make its free throws. The Spartans have struggled mightily from the line in the two losses to Michigan.
Michigan State has made just 25 of 38 free throws against Michigan this season. Coincidentally, the total difference in scoring over the two games (14 points) is almost exactly equal to the number of free throws the Spartans have missed (13).
Spartans star big man Adreian Payne didn't play in one of the meetings with Michigan. But in the game he did appear in, he made just four of 10 attempts from the charity stripe.
That has to improve if Michigan State is going to prevail.
The Wolverines' versatility, confidence and star make them my pick to win on Sunday. Stauskas has proven he is a big-time performer. The team feeds off his confidence, and he has unselfish and talented players to support him.
It's easy to tell from this tweet that Stauskas is fired up, and you can bet the rest of the Wolverines will be too Sunday:
Michigan wins 77-67.
All stat references from StatSheet.
Follow me. I'm addicted to hoops.