The Big Ten Tournament is heating up. On a snowy Friday in New York, the eight remaining teams in the tournament provided fans with an exciting spectacle of drama and offensive firepower. Both teams reigning from Michigan proved superior and are set up for an epic rematch in the world’s most famous arena tomorrow. Let’s dive right in and see what happened today.
No. 1 Michigan State vs. No. 9 Wisconsin
In a surprisingly exhilarating, back-and-forth affair, the Spartans escaped by the skin of their teeth against Wisconsin by a score of 63-60. Wisconsin came into this game playing with house money while the lofty expectations seemed to weigh down on Michigan State. Every time Michigan State tried to pull away, Wisconsin would counter with a run of their own.
The story of the game for Michigan State was the play of sophomore phenomenon Miles Bridges. Bridges, after struggling in the early goings of the second half, caught fire in the remaining 10 minutes. Bridges poured in 20 points on 47 percent shooting and hauled in nine rebounds.
Critics have knocked Bridges throughout the year, claiming that he was purely athletic and lacked the skill necessary to lead a team in March. Bridges had the last laugh this afternoon, however, as he showcased his consistent three-point shooting ability, knocking down three of four attempts from beyond the arc. While his ability to consistently knock down mid-range and three-point jumpers really carried Michigan State today, Bridges still has difficulty creating opportunities off the dribble, especially when facing the double team.
Ethan Happ was magnificent for the Badgers all afternoon. Despite picking up two early fouls, Happ schooled Michigan State’s post defense all game. He scored 22 points on 10 of 15 shooting, grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. Nick Ward and Jaren Jackson struggled to contain Happ in single coverage.
Jaren Jackson, Michigan State’s dynamic freshman, spent the majority of the game on the bench as he fell into early foul trouble. He only played a total of 15 minutes which is not a recipe for success for the Spartans. However, in the final four minutes, Jackson, in his final two minutes of playing time, came up big with an and-one opportunity.
Poor free throw shooting proved to be the dagger for Wisconsin. The Badgers had numerous opportunities from the line down the stretch to pull even with the Spartans, but they could not convert. Khalil Iverson and Ethan Happ each missed two huge free throws with under two minutes to play.
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo has to be pleased to escape with a win, but the Spartans will need their A-game if they want to avenge their regular season loss to Michigan in the semifinals. In particular, Joshua Langford needs to assert himself more on offense. Langford looked confused and unsure of himself on offense, either with or without the ball. Langford averages 12.2 points for the Spartans, but only scored four against Wisconsin.
No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Michigan
In a game that Nebraska had to have to boost its NCAA Tournament stock, the Cornhuskers got outclassed by a superior, hungry Wolverine team. Michigan defeated Nebraska 77-58 in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
Michigan came out of the gates blazing hot. They scorched Nebraska from beyond the arc and their defense devoured the Cornhuskers on defense, forcing them into contested shots. After a sluggish performance against Iowa, Coach Beilein was riding his team from the get-go. The energy and tempo of the Wolverines overwhelmed the Cornhuskers in the first half.
There was not a single Wolverine player that completely dominated as it was a team effort on both ends of the court. Michigan was lights out from three, with Moe Wagner, Duncan Robinson and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman all making two. Quick, decisive ball movement torched the Cornhusker man-to-man defense for the first 15 minutes in the first half. Michigan increased their lead up to 18 in the first.
The tide shifted when Nebraska Coach Tim Miles switched to a 1-3-1 zone defense. This movement stagnated a Michigan offense that was clicking all first half. Big Ten All American first team player James Palmer slowly began to find his groove on offense. He methodically worked the Michigan defense inside and out, resulting in numerous trips to the free throw line.
Palmer’s play continued to carry Nebraska’s offense in the second half, as the Cornhuskers slowly crawled their way to a seven point deficit. However, Wagner and Abdur-Rahkman slammed the door on Nebraska’s comeback. Wagner tortured the Cornhuskers’ defense all afternoon with his inside-outside motion playing style. Abdur-Rahkman’s senior experience and leadership steadied the ship for the Wolverines.
Abdur-Rahkman poured in a game-high 21 points while Wagner added a double-double with 20 points and 13 rebounds. Big 10 sixth player of the year Duncan Robinson knocked in four three-pointers while scoring 16 points. This Wolverine team is peaking at the right time. Check in later tonight for the second half of the quarterfinal recap and tomorrow morning for a semifinal preview.
Featured image by Elsa/Getty Images.
“From Our Haus to Yours”