The “bandwagon” is a sports-cliché institution, and Michigan State’s is filling up again after the Spartans ripped through the Big Ten tournament.
After watching MSU blast Michigan 69-55 in today’s title game and earn what appears to be a favorable — if strange — path to the Final Four in Arlington, Texas, CBS analyst Seth Davis said of the Spartans: “Might be the best 4 seed I’ve seen in a very long time, I think they go to the Final Four.”
Later in the evening, all five ESPN analysts making their picks chose MSU to win it all.
“We beat two really good teams,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who, later Sunday, learned his Spartans would open the NCAA Tournament against Delaware on Thursday in Spokane, Wash. “I think Michigan and Wisconsin have proved throughout the year that they deserved to be in consideration for a 1 seed, and I think they were. And they fell a little bit, but they’re two very, very good teams. But I think we proved that when we get everything back, we’re a very, very good team, too, and one that can play. Unlike some of the teams I’ve had, they can play on the offensive end, they can play on the defensive end.”
Adreian Payne scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the Spartans (26-8) while Branden Dawson (six rebounds) and Gary Harris added 15 points apiece.
Dawson, who averaged 15 points over the three games, was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
“It was mind-blowing,” said Dawson, who missed nine games this season because of a broken right hand. “When I first heard my name, Coach thanked me for my hard work. Like Denzel Valentine said, getting up at 6:30 in the morning to work out all paid off.”
It was especially gratifying for Dawson, who not only missed both games against Michigan during this regular season, but he missed the last Big Ten tournament championship in 2012 after he tore his ACL.
“Coach said if you want to come back, you have to keep working hard, and I was on the bike when the team was practicing,” he said of this year’s layoff. “It feels great being out here with my teammates and winning a Big Ten championship being that I missed it with the ACL injury.”
As fulfilling as it was for Michigan State, it was deflating for Michigan (25-8), which lost out on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will start with Wofford on Thursday in Milwaukee.
Nik Stauskas scored 17, but only four came in the second half. Derrick Walton Jr. added 11 points for the Wolverines.
“We got beat today by a really good team,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “They were exceptional in everything, in everything that they did. Their defense was really good, their steals in the first half, and their offensive rebounding, just took possessions from us. All that being said, a couple breaks go our way, we would have liked it to be three or four at half. Unfortunately it wasn’t.”
Plenty of Michigan State’s players said playing the Wolverines for the title was just like playing any other team.
But after losing twice to Michigan in the regular season, this one was a little different.
“For me, I don’t think it’s any other team,” Valentine said. “It is a pride thing for me and everybody else down the line that’s part of this family. I wanted to win a championship, but (that it was against Michigan) that’s cool to finally get a win over them.”
After a quick start Sunday by Michigan, the Spartans showed quickly it was going to be tough for the Wolverines to win three straight. They went on a 12-0 run early in the first half to go ahead 16-9 with 11:53 left in the first half. Harris scored seven points in the stretch, capping it with a steal and dunk that forced a Michigan timeout. The Spartans led by as much as 11 in the first half and Harris sent Michigan State to the locker room with a 38-29 lead after splitting the defense for a dunk on the final possession.
Michigan State scored the first eight points of the second half to take its biggest lead at 46-29, forcing Michigan to take a quick timeout despite the fact Valentine went to the bench with his third foul. Dawson scored six of Michigan State’s first 10 points of the half as the lead reached 48-31 with 15:32 to play.
Michigan managed to cut the Michigan State lead to 10 several times late in the second half, including after Walton hit a pair of free throws with 3:54 to play. But Valentine split a pair of free throws and Payne hit a 3-pointer to give the Spartans a 62-48 lead with 3:05 to play.
Now with one of their goals checked off, the Spartans were quickly turning their attention to the NCAA Tournament.
“A championship either way feels good, but any time you get to play your rival that adds to it,” Trice said. “We want to get to a Final Four and win a national championship and if we don’t, we’ll feel like we didn’t accomplish our goal.”