After a long hard season, the time has come and the bracket has been set. That’s right, it’s Big Ten tournament time! After an up and down season with records of 19-10 overall and 9-7 in the conference, the Michigan State Spartans have earned the six seed in the tournament. They had a bye in the opening round and begin play today. With the tournament approaching, let’s look at the possible road the Spartans might have to take to reach the championship.
No. 11 Wisconsin
The opening match of the tournament on the Spartans side of the bracket saw the Badgers and the Scarlet Knights go head to head. Both teams have really struggled this season, both just 3-13 in conference play. On paper, Wisconsin appeared to be better, boasting a higher team points per game average than Rutgers (60.8 to 50.4) and two double digit scorers in junior guard Cayla McMorris (12.5 ppg) and redshirt-senior forward Avyanna Young (10.8 ppg). Wisconsin proved that they were not just better on paper, but on the court as well as they grabbed the win 61-55.
In a matchup against the Badgers, the Spartans would be favored to move on. Michigan State played the Badgers just once this season, but defeated them handily 81-57 in Madison. I expect a tougher game in the rematch, but the Spartan offense will simply be too much for Wisconsin and I predict the Spartans will move on to the next round to take on the Michigan Wolverines.
No. 3 Michigan (22-8 overall, 11-5 conference)
For the Wolverines, the 2016-2017 campaign was excellent. Their work over the season landed them the No. 3 seed in the tournament, head coach Kim Barnes Arico was named Big Ten Coach of the Year, and junior Katelynn Flaherty (consensus first team), sophomore Hallie Thome (first/second team) and freshman Kysre Gondrezick (consensus second team/all-freshman) earned All-Big Ten honors. This gave Michigan their most honorees in school history.
To get past the Wolverines, the Spartans have to find a way to slow down ahigh-powered Michigan offense that ranks No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring with 78.3 points per game, while finding a way to score easy buckets. However, that is a tall task when you see that the Wolverines only allow 61.5 points per game putting them at second in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are a dominant team that knows how to execute on both sides of the ball and they will be a tough team to beat. However, the Spartans have slayed the beast once this season in Ann Arbor. The Spartans simply outshot the Wolverines and subpar nights from Flaherty and Gondrezick helped. The Spartans will have to replicate this performance to get the win.
No. 2 Maryland (27-2 overall, 15-1 conference)
If the Spartans get past Michigan, to advance to the finals, they will have to get through Maryland. Maryland is one of the top teams, not just in the Big Ten, but in the country. Their Big Ten record entitles the Terps to a double bye, and they will play the winner of No. 7 Penn State and No. 10 Minnesota. While those two teams could pull off the upset, on paper Maryland looks too dominant and is expected to make their way to the semifinals.
The Terps are led by seniors Brionna Jones and Shatori Walker-Kimbrough, two unanimous selections to the All-Big Ten first team and members of the All-Big Ten defensive team. Jones is averaging 19.3 points per game, 10.7 rebounds, and is shooting 69 percent from the field. Kimbrough is right behind her with averages of 18.5 points, 4 rebounds and shooting 54 percent from the field. While those two seniors lead the way, the two freshman, Destiny Slocum and Kaila Charles, have chipped in, averaging 11.1 and 9.9 points respectively. The two-freshman played well enough to earn themselves All-Big Ten honors, with Slocum being named Freshman of the Year and Charles making the All-Big Ten freshman team.
Maryland has many weapons and it will be difficult for the Spartans to get past them. However, in their lone meeting this season, the Spartans did show signs that they could compete with this team. If the Spartans can slow down the two-headed monster of Jones and Kimbrough and hit their shots for four quarters, they have a chance to take down the Terps.
It will be a tough road for the Spartans to reach the championship, as they will have to take down two of the top teams in the Big Ten. It has been an arduous season and although at times the Spartans have not looked dominant, there have been flashes of a championship caliber team. If the Spartans can get it together at this point in the season they have a chance, and as we know all too well, anything can happen in March.