After a wild Sunday of Big Ten basketball, the dust of the regular season has settled and Michigan State is officially the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. It took some outside help, but a top four finish gives MSU a double-bye.
“I don’t apologize for anything, I think we earned everything,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “We had the toughest schedule, and I think we did our job.”
The Spartans’ first game of the tournament is set for 2:30 p.m. EST on Friday, March 10. No. 13 seed Ohio State will be MSU's first opponent, after beating Wisconsin Wednesday night and Iowa Thursday afternoon.
The Buckeyes are a familiar foe for Michigan State. In fact, MSU capped off its regular season with a home game against OSU - that means back-to-back games against the same opponent for the Spartans. And Ohio State is red hot.
“We’ve just played Iowa and Ohio State, we could play either one of them,” Izzo said. “The scary one is we haven’t played Wisconsin since the beginning of the year, so it’ll be completely new prep.”
OSU is playing its best basketball of the year at the right time. After struggling to just five conference wins in the regular season, Ohio State has won four of its last five including the pair of tournament wins; the offense finally seems to have found a groove.
However, the sole loss in that stretch was to MSU. The Buckeyes kept things close, but ultimately couldn't find a way to complete the road win, making them 0-2 against the Spartans on the season. The previous loss came back on Feb. 12 at home.
Michigan State is heading into the tourney on it's own little hot streak, with two straight wins to end the regular season. After notching a 80-67 road win over Nebraska, they capped it off with a senior day victory against Ohio State.
MSU’s offense is heating up as the season winds to a close. That’s been especially true in its last five games - the Spartans are averaging 84.4 per game, 13.8 points higher than their season average.
"Just the way we've been scoring the ball, having multiple people in double-figures a night, it definitely helps us close out games," junior guard A.J. Hoggard said.
Multiple players across the lineup have contributed to the recent offensive boost. Naturally, graduate student forward Joey Hauser and senior guard Tyson Walker have both been the most effective pieces of the offense. In their last five games, Walker is averaging 19.8 points per game and Hauser is averaging 16.8.
While not quite as lethal in terms of scoring, Hoggard has also been an essential part of the puzzle running MSU’s offense as the point guard. In his last five, he’s averaged over 15 points per game and eight assists a game.
Sophomore guard Jaden Akins is also surging. He’s reached double-digit point totals for three straight games, averaging 17 points per game in that stretch. Akins notched a season-high 21 against the Hawkeyes to kick off the improved scoring.
“We’re shooting over 50%, almost 54 from the three and 85 from the line,” Izzo said. “Those are world-class offensive stats, some that we’ve never seen here.”
While the offense has made some serious strides of late, the defense seems to have regressed. In the five game stretch where the offense has averaged over 80 points a game, Michigan State is just 3-2.
At the beginning of the season, it was the Spartans’ defense that typically saved the day. Conference games turned into rock fights, void of much offensive consistency. In the past few weeks, MSU has instead relied on hot shooting to secure a win. With tournament season less than a week away, Michigan State will attempt to keep up this newly-found offensive rhythm, while also regaining some of that lost defensive prowess.
"We need to get back to holding teams down where we were for that long stretch, get back to being Michigan State," Hoggard said. "We kind of let a few teams shoot it really well against us."
In short, the Spartans are seeking balance.
“We’re going to try to get as balanced as we can, and build on the positives," Izzo said. Get our defending and rebounding back."
Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.
Beyond the Big Ten Tournament, it’s onto the NCAA tournament. It’s finally the one-and-done stretch of the season.
“This team should be wired for that,” Izzo said. “They’ve faced every obstacle you could face, and then some I didn’t think you could face. They’ve been battle tested, they’ve played a good schedule, they’ve been under adversity, they’ve gone through tragedies. Whether they are mentally tough enough now, and now fatigued mentally, that’ll be the difference.”
MSU’s first game of the tournament is set for 2:30 p.m. EST against Ohio State and will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
Share and discuss “Preview: Michigan State enters Big Ten Tournament with double-bye and surging offense” on social media.