Are the Spartans Ready to be B1G Ten Champs?

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This has been a roller-coaster season to say the least for the Michigan State women’s basketball team. From starting the season ranked No. 24 to enduring injuries, from losing streaks to beating rivals, this team has seen everything that builds a championship team. Going into the Big Ten Tournament, MSU should have all the confidence needed to bring the Big Ten prize back to East Lansing.

The Spartans were relieved when a new season was underway as they could finally have a full, healthy roster. Last year was rough to say the least, as MSU barely had enough players to start, let alone fill out the roster. Things were so bad that they needed a Spartan volleyball player to suit up at times. Having available players was head coach Suzy Merchant’s theme during postgame press conferences at the beginning of the season. Having a full roster paid off, as MSU started the season 4-0, almost winning the Junkanoo Jam in the Bahamas.

Injuries showed themselves once again, as junior forward and team leader Aerial Powers faced being out for multiple games to heal tendonitis in her Achilles. This forced the rest of the team to step up, and they did, going 3-0 without her. As the season went on, Powers continued to get stronger, and by season’s end she showed why she is a potential All-American. When Powers is playing at her peak, the Spartans can go far in the tournament. With the way she is playing right now, it is safe to say she has shown what she is capable of doing.

The Big Ten was supposed to go Maryland first, Ohio State second, and everyone else, according to the Big Ten preseason rankings. Yes, that is how it will be when the tournament starts. However, MSU has taken over that “everyone else” category, claiming third place as their own after defeating Ohio State. This alone guarantees the Spartans a bye in the tournament, which will surely help them as they have had minimal stretches of rest as the season winded down.

During Big Ten play, MSU played tough as they only had one loss by double-digits. Even more important is that in games against Maryland and OSU, their biggest loss came by nine points. The Spartans were able to keep with the conference’s leaders as they averaged 88 points per game against the Terps and Buckeyes. In those games, Powers averaged 26 points and was able to push MSU to near upsets. As great as these wins would have been, the Spartans used them as learning experiences, as one could see growth from them after these contests.

A great example of improvement has been redshirt sophomore Branndais Agee. Agee came into the season not really known as a scorer, but she took it upon herself to become a player the defense has to look out for. Her hard work paid off as she turned into the team’s third leading scorer. This will aid MSU nicely in the tournament by alleviating some pressure off Powers and second-leading scorer Tori Jankoska. This big three of sorts has shown how dangerous they can be, especially during Big Ten play. When this group is firing on all cylinders, it is hard to imagine anyone slowing them down.

What will be most critical, and possibly most beneficial depending on their play, will be the Spartans’ defense. As mentioned earlier, they finished third in the Big Ten in points allowed. The rest of the conference 67.5 points per game against them. The true test of this defense will be against either Maryland or Ohio State, as each averaged over 80 points per game in Big Ten play. If the Spartans play either team, keeping them under that mark of 80 points will give MSU a great chance to win.

With the standings the way they are right now, the Spartans would face OSU or Maryland in their second game of tournament play, assuming the favorites win their first games. If they play well in their first game, the Spartans can continue the momentum they would bring into the tournament. However, the Spartans will need to amp up their play, as postseason basketball is a different game. The best teams play their best games at this time. Maryland and Ohio State will not go down easily. What works in the Spartans’ favor is that they have arguably the best player in the conference in Powers, and a supporting cast around her that is fully capable of playing championship basketball.

Winning the tournament will be tough, as MSU ended the year 1-2 against the conference’s best. Yet, this team has shown they will not bow down to adversity. They have faced it before, and if they can overcome it once more, they can claim being the Big Ten’s best.