Tight-knit Spartans earn No. 1 seed, ‘play to leave a legacy’
INDIANAPOLIS - Exacting revenge on a loss from exactly one week ago, the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans defeated the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes, 68-64, to win the Big Ten Championship.
Led by Brandon Wood’s 21-points, the Spartans prevailed in a hotly contested game that went back-and-forth for 30 minutes, and then shifted in favor of Michigan State due to poor shooting from the Buckeyes.
It was only the Spartans’ first conference tournament trophy since 2000.
Unlike other conference tournament winners, the waiting game for the Spartans was minimal, as they were quickly sequestered to a viewing area to watch the Selection Show and await their tournament fate. A small throng of media and team family and friends followed, waiting with baited breath for an announcement.
As the best team in the best conference in college basketball, the Spartans were well deserving of an NCAA Tournament one-seed.
With Kansas and North Carolina unable to win any hardware this weekend, the case for Tom Izzo’s guys became that much more probable.
After a few minutes of sitting around, the good news was delivered.
As the top seed in their conference tournament, the Spartans cut down nets, munched on what appeared to be some delicious looking bar food, and heard Greg Gumbel announce their name as the top seed in the West Region.
Knowing they fully deserved the distinction, the Spartans rejoiced, pumped some fists and then quickly resumed munching on that bar food while watching the Selection Show.
What else would you expect out from a group of college kids?
“We were playing for a one-seed. No doubt,” said Draymond Green, who was named Big Ten Conference Tournament MVP. “But we also wanted to play to leave a legacy. Do something that hasn’t been done since . We had an opportunity to do something since Mateen Cleaves group.”
Per usual, the Spartans have a tough road ahead. With Memphis playing their best basketball all-season, paired with elite level talent incongruent with what you normally get with an eight-seed, the Spartans could be heavily tested as early as the third-round.
From there possible opponents include Louisville, Marquette or Missouri, but whatever thoughts the Spartans had on their quadrant of the Big Dance as it was unveiled live was kept inside.
As the rest of the field was announced, the team was fairly emotionless, but when they took to the post-game press conference, they showed confidence.
“I knew if we were going to be a one-seed if we won today,” said Brandon Wood, who finished with a game-high 21-points in the victory. “I watched the shows, so I felt pretty confident.
It’s clear that this team has been one of Izzo’s most impressive during his tenure. Unranked coming into the season, the Spartans balance and drastic in-season improvement in both the frontcourt and the backcourt is what drove them to 26-wins.
They have weapons all over their rotation and, oh yeah, played another incredibly tough schedule.
“This year feels better than any of my others at Michigan State,” said Green. “We love to be together.”
That clock is ticking, but there may be plenty of quality time remaining.
Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN