MSU will need season's best effort to top Badgers
Chicago – Michigan State has been to the Big Ten tournament championship game four times and never lost.
To run that streak to five, the Spartans will likely have to come up with a performance better than any they've had all season, including the come-from-behind victory over Maryland in Saturday's semifinals.
That's because today's opponent – Wisconsin – is not only the top-seeded team and a potential No. 1 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, but it whipped the Spartans just two weeks ago on senior day in Madison.
"We didn't play very well, and it was a hell of a night there with Senior Night and everything, and we didn't do a very good job," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "I blame some of that on me. I did not think we had some answers and adjustments that we made."
To win in today's Big Ten tournament championship at the United Center – a win that would give Michigan State back-to-back tournament titles – it will mean the Spartans find a way to slow the conference's player of the year, Frank Kaminsky.
The senior had 31 points in the previous meeting, but he's only part of the Badgers' arsenal. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes each scored 15 in their win over Purdue in the first semifinal on Saturday, and guard Bronson Koenig poured in 19.
And Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan is one of the few coaches with a winning record over Izzo, going 15-12 since taking over the Badgers in 2001.
"We're gonna have to do a better job now," Izzo said. "It still might not work, Kaminsky's a heck of a player. They've got so many weapons, well coached, they don't foul, don't turn the ball over. They've just got a lot of reasons why they're I think a No. 1 seed (in the NCAA Tournament) and I think the best team in our league. And yet I've been here before, it's a perfect ending for Bo and I to be here, we've had some wars together and we've had a lot of great games and played for championships."
There certainly have been battles between the Spartans and Badgers, but this is the first time the teams will meet in the conference tournament finals.
It's a game Michigan State won last year when it beat rival Michigan, and it's a title it does not want to give up easily.
"This means a lot," senior guard Travis Trice said. "We are the defending champs of this tournament and we want to repeat. But at the same time we want to keep the momentum we've got going, especially heading into the big dance."
Both teams will be making the quick turnaround from Saturday, and Trice said this isn't the time of year to make excuses about being tired.
With a championship on the line, odds are the fatigue will be far from an issue. And for Michigan State, it's a chance to do something many didn't think it was capable of.
"At the end of the day it's March and this is what we play for," Michigan State's Denzel Valentine said. "Our goal is to go to Indianapolis and be in Final Four and this is a step toward that goal."