MSU’s Izzo looks forward to ‘wide-open’ Big Ten tourney

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

By the end of the regular season, Purdue had pulled away enough to win the Big Ten by two games. However, picking a winner on most nights seemed to be fruitless.

Upsets became the norm and no team was immune, giving the conference more parity than it’s seen in recent years and setting up what could be a wild Big Ten tournament, which begins Wednesday and runs through Sunday at the Verizon Center in Washington.

That, Michigan State coach Tom Izzo believes, gives nearly every team a shot this week, including his Spartans.

“I’ve been in this league 30-some years,” Izzo said Monday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. “What we have when you look at the tournament is, tell me you’d rather play the No. 12 or the No. 7. Tell me you’d rather play the No. 13 or the No. 5. It is wide open, and there is a lot of parity and that means there’s been a lot of beating up on each other. … There were some big games we played and other teams played and I want to make sure everybody else gives us the same respect. Parity doesn’t mean poor, sometimes parity means you’re deeper top to bottom.

“So I think the tournament is as wide open as it’s ever been and I think it will be great to get out there.”

Michigan State (18-13, 10-8 Big Ten) enters the tournament as the No. 5 seed and will play at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday against the winner of Wednesday’s matchup between No. 12 Nebraska and No. 13 Penn State.

It’s the first time the Spartans have played on Thursday at the conference tournament since 2011 when it opened with a win over Iowa followed by a victory over Purdue before losing to Penn State in the semifinals. A similar result this time would eliminate any angst over the NCAA Tournament with the field being announced Sunday.

If Michigan State makes it to its fourth straight championship game, there would certainly be no doubt of its NCAA status and despite two straight losses to end the regular season. Izzo feels his team is playing well enough to make a run. The loss Sunday at Maryland was a tough one with Melo Trimble hitting a last-second shot, but the Spartans put themselves in position to win.

“I don’t know if we’re necessarily playing our best, but we just came off two losses and both games I thought we did some things that were good enough to win and some things good enough to lose and that’s kind of the way it’s been,” Izzo said. “But we are improving in areas we needed to — free-throw shooting, turnovers, things like that, that I think will help us in the tournament.”

And cleaning up just a few things could make the difference as the final minutes of the loss at Maryland showed.

“It’s the little things,” Izzo said. “We’ve got to control the things we can control and at the end I have no problem. We ran what we thought was a great play either going to Nick (Ward) or Miles (Bridges), and we got a wide-open layup and (Ward) just fumbled the ball. The last play we knew they were going to Trimble, even though he was taking the ball out of bounds. Did we press up enough? I don’t know. He can go by you so quick and six seconds is a lot of time.

“But I felt like we did rebound the ball, had four big stops when it was 60-60, and that is hard to do on the road, and we got the rebounds and had an opportunity. I felt like we had a good shot from Miles, a great shot from Alvin Ellis, a wide-open three. We got a layup and you can’t ask for more than to get stops and have good possessions. It was good basketball, it just didn’t go in the hole.”

Big Ten tournament

At Verizon Center, Washington

Wednesday

No. 12 Nebraska vs. No. 13 Penn State, 4:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 14 Rutgers, 7 p.m., BTN

Thursday

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 9 Illinois, noon, BTN

No. 5 Michigan State vs. 12-13 winner, 2:30 p.m., BTN

No. 7 Iowa vs. No. 10 Indiana, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2

No. 6 Northwestern vs. 11-14 winner, 9 p.m., ESPN2

Friday

No. 1 Purdue vs. Michigan-Illinois winner, noon, ESPN

No. 4 Minnesota vs. 5-12/13 winner, 2:30 p.m., ESPN

No. 2 Wisconsin vs. 7-10 winner, 6:30 p.m., BTN

No. 3 Maryland vs. 6-11/14 winner, BTN

Saturday

Semifinals, 1 and 3:30 p.m., CBS

Sunday

Championship, 3 p.m., CBS

mcharboneau@detroitnews.com

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