March 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

John Niyo

Michigan State seeks revenge, Michigan wants to lock up top seed

Beilein, Morgan after Michigan win
Beilein, Morgan after Michigan win: Michigan coach John Beilein on Nik Stauskas; Jordan Morgan on Caris LeVert's big rebound.

Indianapolis — Monday is St. Patrick's Day, but today is something more festive, especially for the guys wearing green.

Michigan State got what it came for here at the Big Ten tournament, and now the Spartans — already enjoying the magical healing powers of March Madness — get even more, advancing to Sunday’s championship game and a rematch with in-state rival Michigan.

It'll be the first meeting between these schools in the 17-year history of the tourney, and their third meeting this season. And considering the Wolverines took the first two, rather convincingly, there was no hiding the Spartans' glee at getting another shot at redemption.

"This is straight from a movie," Michigan State guard Travis Trice said, with the cameras rolling in a cramped postgame locker room. "We wouldn't want it any other way. Now we've just got to go handle our business. There's no more hoping that they win or seeing if they make it to the championship, too. I mean, it's set in stone."

Marked on the calendar, too, with Michigan State coach Tom Izzo assuring his staff they'd have trouble sleeping Saturday night, what with all the film study and game preparation that was just getting started.

"Our big goal of the weekend was to play three games," said Izzo, whose team won back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 21. "That was very important to me, because I think we need to play games to get better. And then 'Shazam!' they throw Michigan in there in the championship game and it's Fourth of July and Christmas. You get to play three games and you get to play your rival."

And the winner gets to take home another trophy and raise a banner, something the Spartans have done plenty of over the years and which the Wolverines are starting to expect now, too.

Title sweep, No. 1 seed on the line

Michigan, the top seed in Indianapolis after rolling to the Big Ten regular-season title, is playing for its first league tournament championship since 1998 — a win over Purdue that was later vacated due to NCAA sanctions. And for a program that's crossed quite a few milestones off its to-do-again list the past two seasons, another awaits.

"It feels great," forward Glenn Robinson III said. "I don't know how many teams have won this thing outright in the regular season and then come back and done it in the tournament. But that's our goal."

It has happened five times in all, most recently when Ohio State pulled off the championship double in 2011. And if it happens again, it'll be hard for the NCAA Tournament selection committee not to reward the Wolverines with a No. 1 seed when the brackets are unveiled Sunday night.

"We know it's there," senior Jordan Morgan said. "But we have to take care of business and that stuff will all take care of itself."

Both teams took care of business Saturday, blistering the nets early in their respective semifinals while bolstering their credentials as legitimate national title contenders.

When Nik Stauskas stepped back and drained a 3-pointer on the first possession of the game against Ohio State, then slow-walked down the court as the bench erupted, you had a feeling it was going to be Michigan's day.

Same goes for Michigan State after Keith Appling found Adreian Payne open for a 3-pointer on the right wing 15 seconds into the Spartans' game against Wisconsin.

The Wolverines kept raining 3s on the Buckeyes, who'd won all six previous meetings with Michigan in this tournament. They hit seven of their first 10 from beyond the arc — from six different players. And when one of them is an accidental bank shot from the Big Ten player of the year, well, as Ohio State's Aaron Craft said after the game, "What can you do?"

"We just kept trying to tell ourselves they couldn't keep shooting the way they were," Craft said.

Eventually, they were right, and after trailing by 16 at one point in the first half, the Buckeyes held a three-point lead with 4:12 left. But Robinson hit a pair of free throws to retake the lead, Stauskas sent the Michigan bench into another tizzy with a wild reverse layup, then Caris LeVert — the kid from Columbus who never got a recruiting call from Ohio State — helped preserve it with a crucial offensive rebound. Then Craft ended his own nightmarish game with what amounted to a fumble at the goal line.

"I feel so fortunate right now," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "You look at so many of our games down the stretch here, they've ended just like this and the ball keeps bouncing our way."

Spartans continue to get precious playing time

Finally, it's starting to bounce the Spartans' way, too, after their season was sidetracked by injuries and illness. Now with a handful of games under their belt since Branden Dawson's return from a broken hand, Saturday's first half might've been Michigan State's best since, well, when exactly?

"Maybe the first half of Kentucky," Izzo said, referring to that Nov. 12 clash with the then-No. 1 Wildcats. "It seems like a long time."

But it sure seemed like a good time, the way the Spartans were pouring it on the Badgers, building a 21-point lead in the first half, then holding off Bo Ryan's team after the inevitable comeback and enough whistles to leave Izzo with his head buried in his hands on the bench at one point.

Payne's 18 points led six Spartans in double figures in the 83-75 win, something they'd done just once before this season — five months ago in the opener against McNeese State.

"We came here to get better in areas," Izzo said, talking about defense and limiting turnovers and getting out on the break. "We're not a finished product yet, but we definitely made some progress."

Now comes the real progress report, though. Another crack at Michigan, and a chance for the seniors in particular to avoid an O-fer against their rivals on the way out the door.

"It means a lot," said Appling, who finished with 10 points and six assists in 37 minutes Saturday. "Those guys beat us twice in the regular season. Now we have an opportunity for some give-back. And at the same time we have an opportunity to win a championship."

Asked which meant more, Appling smiled and dodged the question like a ball screen. Asked again in a different way a few more times — "Why do y'all keep throwing that in there?" he finally replied — the senior couldn't help but laugh.

Why?

"I'm just in a good mood," Appling said.

Happy holidays.

john.niyo@detroitnews.com
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Keith Appling, top, and Michigan State will reach for redemption in their third game against Michigan, bottom, this season. A win by Michigan, on the other hand, would make it hard for the NCAA Tournament committee to deny the Wolverines a No. 1 seed. / Dale G. Young / Detroit News