All season long, we’ve been told that a healthy Michigan State team has the best starting lineup in America. This evening, we were given a glimpse of why the Spartans entered the season with such lofty expectations.
Aided by a balanced scoring attack, MSU fed off the partisan Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd with a thunderous first half and held off stubborn Wisconsin squad in the second half, earning an 83-75 win in a Big Ten conference semifinal. The win avenged a loss to the Badgers a little more than a month ago at Wisconsin, as the Spartans fell 60-58.
With their wonderful mixture of talent and experience, its easy to see why the Spartans (25-8) were ranked No. 2 in the AP Preseason Poll. The Spartans began the season in a dizzying flurry, posting an 18-1 record before a late-January swoon that continued the rest of the regular season. However, injuries to starters Brendan Dawson, Adreian Payne and Keith Appling throughout the year crippled their chances of fulfilling early season proclamations. They concluded the season in a state of uncertainty, dropping three of their final four games, with the low-light being a 53-46 home loss to Illinois.
The conference tournament appeared to be the shot in the arm the Spartans needed, as the previous mentioned starters are as healthy as they’ve been in weeks, with Payne scoring 18 points to lead six players in double figures.
MSU shot 65 percent in the first half and gave the Badgers their largest halftime deficit of the season at 17 points, leading 43-26. The start was encouraging, as the Badgers are the only team in the Big Ten with a winning record against the Spartans (14-11) since Bo Ryan began his tenure in Madison during the 2001-02 season.
Badgers’ seven-footer Frank Kaminsky continued his stellar play with 28 points, but was the lone bright spot for Wisconsin (26-7). Sam Dekker and Ben Burst chipped in with 11 points each
The win sets up the dream matchup many from the Great Lakes state imagined, as MSU will face Michigan in the conference final tomorrow. This will be the first time in the history of the tournament that the two schools will face each other. A win for the Wolverines would likely grant them a coveted No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Regardless of the result, the Spartans appear headed toward a two or three seed.