After an exciting quarterfinals in Madison Square Garden, the Big Ten Tournament semifinals looks to put forth some exhilarating basketball. Both games feature rematches from earlier this season as the Michigan State Spartans look to avenge their home loss to the upstart Michigan Wolverines back on Jan. 13. Meanwhile, the Penn State Nittany Lions look to lock down an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament by sending Purdue packing early.
Who will advance to the title game? Let’s dive in and make some predictions!
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 5 Michigan
This is the match-up everyone around the Big Ten hoped for. Back on Jan. 13, the Wolverines invaded East Lansing and knocked out Michigan State 82-72. Moe Wagner put up a career-best 27 points on 61.5 percent shooting. Zavier Simpson also demonized the Spartans with 16 points and five assists.
One of the big reasons the Wolverines walked out of East Lansing with a victory was their ability to limit the Spartans from beyond the arc. As a team, Michigan State averages shooting 41.8 percent from deep. However, Michigan’s top 10 defense limited them to only 23.1 percent from three.
For both teams heading into this match-up avoiding foul trouble will be critical. Opposing teams understand that the best way to defeat Michigan is to lure them into foul trouble. As great as the Wolverine defense is, it can be undisciplined at times. Moe Wagner, in particular, averages three personal fouls per game. Michigan State should go to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Nick Ward early to try to bait Wagner into early fouls.
Look for Michigan State to utilize Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson on offense heavily throughout the day. Bridges and Jackson each scored 19 points, with Jackson shooting 13 free throws, in their previous meeting. Bridges thrives when playing in space as he can properly use his athleticism to create an advantage over his defenders. Michigan needs to play tight, physical defense all afternoon on Bridges and force him to become a distributor rather than a scorer.
Prediction: This could end up being the most entertaining game of the Tournament. Look for Spartan Coach Tom Izzo to have his team on razor-edge heading into this rematch after a disappointing showing against Wisconsin. Michigan State should have success working through Jackson on the block as his athleticism and physicality will create a mismatch for the Wolverines.
However, Michigan is playing its best basketball of the year. Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman will create problems for the Spartans on the wing and Wagner’s versatility will be difficult to handle. When the game is on the line though, the Wolverine defense will come through and send Coach John Beilein back to the Big Ten title game. Michigan 72, Michigan State 69.
No. 3 Purdue vs. No. 7 Penn State
Penn State entered the Tournament as a dark horse candidate that could make a run to the title game. However, No. 8 Purdue represents a more daunting challenge than an Ohio State team that they had defeated twice this year. Purdue got the better of Penn State on Feb. 18 at the Mackey Arena by a score of 76-73. In that game, Purdue was without Vincent Edwards, who scored 26 points against Rutgers last night.
The story of this game is the match-up between Big Ten All-American first team selections Tony Carr and Carsen Edwards. Carr went toe-to-toe with Keita Bates-Diop last night and emerged victorious. Carr is undeniably the hottest player in the Big Ten at the moment, averaging 25 points, six rebounds and four and a half assists. Carr is at his best in an iso set where he can lull his defender to sleep and create opportunities for himself or his teammates.
However, Purdue is ranked third in offensive efficiency according to KenPom. The Boilermakers are lethal from three point range, as Rutgers can attest to. They started off the game only one for eight, but caught fire down the stretch. Carsen Edwards can beat opponents in numerous different ways. He averaged 18.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists during the season.
The key to this match-up lies in how the Nittany Lions will slow down Isaac Haas and how Purdue keeps Penn State off of the offensive glass. Without Michael Watkins, Coach Pat Chambers will have his work cut out for him in devising a way to slow down Haas. Purdue surrender 17 offensive rebounds to Rutgers, allowing them to stay within striking distance for much of the second half. They have to do a better job at rebounding as a team if they want a chance to play for a championship.
Prediction: Much like Michigan State, Purdue did not have the best showing last night against Rutgers. Coach Matt Painter needs to have his team focused and locked in from the get-go. This Penn State team understands the stakes at play. A win would lock them into the big dance, but a loss leaves things up for chance.
Penn State will rely on Carr to continue befuddling opponents along with strong three point shooting from Shep Garner and Josh Reaves. However, Purdue has the weapons to force Penn State into foul trouble early. Look for the Nittany Lions to put a scare into Purdue and keep things close, but the Boilermakers will ultimately move on to play in the championship. Purdue 78, Penn State, 73.
Featured image by Mike Carter/USA TODAY Sports.
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