Beilein, Izzo agree: Make Michigan vs. Michigan State the finale every year

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Michigan State guard Cassius Winston helps cut down the net after the Big Ten title-clinching win over Michigan.

Michigan coach John Beilein was all for the Big Ten moving to a 20-game schedule this season.

One key reason was the expanded conference slate ensured Michigan and Michigan State would play twice a year as one of three protected rivalries, along with Illinois-Northwestern and Indiana-Purdue.

Moving forward, though, Beilein just has one suggestion: make Michigan vs. Michigan State the regular-season finale every year.

“Like football ends with the Ohio State game, this is the way the season should end every year,” Beilein said last week. “Now that we've got the two games, this matters. …For me as a coach, for (Michigan State’s) Tom (Izzo) as a coach and for the people that coach after us, it should be the Michigan-Ohio State football game that comes down to the last game.”

Before the Big Ten made the jump from 18 games this year, the Spartans and Wolverines squared off just once in the regular season in two of the past three seasons. They played on Jan. 13 — six games into the conference slate — last season and on Feb. 6 — 11 games into the conference slate — in 2015-16.

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In between that in 2016-17, the rivals met twice within a 10-day span right smack dab in the middle of the schedule and the games, in a sense, were lost in the college basketball shuffle.

This season, the two top-10 encounters took place in the final two weeks and received more of a spotlight Beilein thinks the rivalry deserves.

Before the first meeting on Feb. 24 in Ann Arbor, Beilein pointed out the only programs that reside in the same state and can rival Michigan's and Michigan State’s success over the past decade is Duke and North Carolina.

And much like Duke and North Carolina have closed out the Atlantic Coast Conference slate against one another since 1987-88, Beilein hopes Michigan and Michigan State can follow a similar season-ending tradition.

“The atmosphere in there, John's right. This should be the last game every year, here or there,” Izzo said following Saturday’s clash. “Maybe we'll work into that because that was a hell of a basketball game, electric crowd.

"That place was like old times. Not that it hasn't been good, but it was phenomenal. That was fun. I appreciate our fans; the student section came back and gave up a day or two of their spring break. Just special things why I love the place. Like I said, hell of a game. Maybe this will be a Duke-Carolina thing. Maybe it will be someday."

Northwestern coach Chris Collins spent 17 years in the Duke-North Carolina rivalry — four as a player (1992-96) and 13 as an assistant (2000-13) at Duke — and knows all about the weight, gravity and buildup a regular-season finale can add to a rival matchup.

Collins said making all three of the Big Ten in-state rivalries part of the conference’s final games on an annual basis would “be a great idea.”

“I thought (the Duke-North Carolina finale) always brought a lot of intrigue and excitement just with everybody getting in the mood of college basketball this time of year,” Collins said Monday during a Big Ten coaches teleconference call. “I would be all for that. I think it's a great thing and you saw it on Saturday night with Michigan and Michigan State with the conference being on the line and the rivalry game. I think it definitely adds to everything and I would love to see that happen in the future."

As Collins mentioned, it helped that the stars aligned for Saturday’s Michigan-Michigan State showdown. It marked the 11th time the foes squared off in a Big Ten finale and was the first time in series history they met with both teams vying for a piece of the conference title.

But by putting the rivalry game on a bigger stage at the end of the season, it could bring added significance and attention — for the programs and the conference — no matter what’s at stake.

“Both games really were great atmospheres,” Beilein said Saturday. “If they listen to Tom and I and say make this the last game of every year for years we will be in this thing. Now will we always be playing for the championship? You don't know. But I think this is a great concept for us to look at.

“They won the regular season last year and we won the Big Ten championship. There's 14 teams in this league and you've got the two champions last year (in the same state), and maybe we'll do it again. This is a great time for big-time basketball in this state and it's wonderful. This is a very unique situation. We're all in. We have two great programs and let's just hope we can we both keep it going for as long as we can."

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins