Number one seeds are usually rewarded as a result of outstanding play, whether as a team or as an individual. As the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament begins this Thursday in Indianapolis, Michigan State enters the tournament as the number one seed after finishing as co-champs in the Big 10 with Michigan and Ohio State with a 13-5 conference record.
Michigan State, you’re welcome.
The Spartans may very well have the toughest road to travel that a number one seed has ever had on their way to a possible conference tournament championship. The only consolation Michigan State can take as a number one seed is that they will have a first round bye, not having to play until Friday.
The Spartans will face the winner of the #8-#9 match-up on Thursday between Iowa and Illinois. Those two teams will play the first game of the Big Ten tournament on Thursday at 11:30 in the morning. Both the Hawkeyes and Illini have wins on their resume this season against top 25 opponents with one of the Illinois wins coming against Michigan State.
Should Michigan State prevail in their opening-round game, they will likely face the winner of a possible Wisconsin vs. Indiana match-up. The Spartans do own two victories over the Badgers this season including a 63 – 60 overtime win at Madison, but split the season series with the Hoosiers including a 15 point blowout loss at Indiana in the next to the last game of the season. In fact, the Spartans will enter the tournament on a two-game losing streak, having lost to both the Hoosiers and Ohio State to round out the season.
Meanwhile, the other side of the bracket looks considerably easier for number two seed Michigan and the number three seed Ohio State Buckeyes. The Wolverines will await the winner of the Northwestern vs. Minnesota match-up. Michigan swept the season series from the Wildcats and defeated Minnesota in their only meeting of the season.
Ohio State is in a similar position as they will await the winner of the Purdue vs. Nebraska game that will take place on Thursday. The Buckeyes routed the Cornhuskers in both of their meetings this season and knocked off the Boilermakers back on February 7 in a close game in their lone contest of the season.
This would lead likely to a two vs. three match-up on Saturday, with each team owning a win against the other during the regular season series for the right to play in the championship game on Sunday.
For Michigan State to make it to the championship game on Sunday they will have likely had to play two hard-fought games, only to find an opponent that knows them well and owns a win over them waiting.
For Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana, they will enter the Big Ten tournament knowing that regardless of the outcome, they will be going dancing next week.
But for Michigan State, and possibly Ohio State, a Big Ten tournament championship might be the difference between being a number one seed in the NCAA’s or a two or three seed.
If being a number one seed means being rewarded as Michigan State has been for this Big Ten tournament, the Spartans may not care.