The date is March 2020 and the Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament has just been canceled mere hours before it was scheduled to begin.
Fast forward to now, one year later. A Michigan State team that competed in a roller coaster of a season unlike any other are set to take the tournament floor, hanging on by their fingernails to a secure position as a likely NCAA Tournament qualifier.
The Spartans enter the 2021 Big Ten Men’s Basketball Tournament as a No. 9 seed with an overall record of 15-11 and a conference record of 9-11.
MSU has won five of its last seven matchups, including victories against the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 seeded Big Ten teams.
“There're more ranked teams in the Big Ten Tournament than a lot of the Final Fours I’ve been in,” Izzo said. “That tells you just how good the Big 10 is and how good the Big 10 tournament is.”
MSU will begin its tournament run with a matchup against No. 8 seed Maryland on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. The Spartans last met the Terrapins on Feb. 28 in College Park, where they fell in a shocking 73-55 defeat.
Maryland senior guard Darryl Morsell was named the 2021 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year earlier this week. Last time against Michigan State, Morsell put up 11 points and grabbed three rebounds.
Michigan State junior forward Aaron Henry was also given 2021 Big Ten honors. He was selected to be a part of the All-Big Ten Third Team by the media and coaches, as well as the All-Defensive Team by coaches. He was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Monday for the first time in his career.
“It’ll be a big challenge, one I’m looking forward to,” Izzo said in regard to Thursday’s matchup. “Hopefully a little revenge, but maybe more importantly, I think we’re playing a little better than when we went out (to College Park).”
The team has been on a short break since Sunday, but that hasn't meant they're fully deflating, Henry said. They've got a lot in hand, so he's waiting until the end of the season, hopefully with some championships or goals achieved, before actual relaxation kicks in.
Joshua Langford agreed and said it helped to decompress, get their feet back under them.
Langford has not been able to compete in a tournament in two years, due to injury and COVID. This week is important to him.
"My mindset is to come in and give all I have, just give 110%, because it is one-and-done time. You don't get games back again if you lose one so you definitely come in and you just want to give all you have, you want to leave everything out there and not reserve anything," Langford said.
The last two weeks, having six games in roughly twelve days, has prepared them for this postseason action and atmosphere – the schedule is built the same with back-to-back game times.
"We can do it. We can compete at a high level with a short preparation time," Henry said.
If Michigan State scores the victory against Maryland early Thursday, they will progress forward to play their in-state rivals, No. 1 seed Michigan on Friday at 11:30 a.m. for the third time in two weeks.
“It’s hard to believe that we’ve finally put ourselves in a position where we have a chance,” Izzo said. “What we’re going to do is try to take it one game at a time, not a coaching cliche just the truth, and see if we can get our guys as fresh as they can be.”
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