Michigan and Michigan State go into this weekend’s Big Ten tournament with many of the same goals.
The Wolverines and Spartans would, obviously, like to win the tournament, especially since there’s a good chance they could meet in the championship game.
"We’re not thinking about the NCAA tournament or seeding or anything else," John Beilein said on a conference call Wednesday. "Our focus is on winning the Big Ten tournament."
Even if they can’t do that, though, both schools want to get ready for the tournament that really matters — the Big Dance. There’s no bubble watch at work here. Even a bad loss in Friday’s quarterfinals wouldn’t keep them out of the tournament, but it could still affect the seed they receive.
Going into the conference tournament, Michigan is solidly projected as a No. 2 seed, while Michigan State bounces between a No. 4 and a No. 5, depending which mock bracket you believe. The question is how much they can change that with a good or bad performance this weekend.
The Wolverines open play Friday afternoon with the winner of tomorrow’s game between Illinois and Indiana. Michigan played the Illini and Hoosiers in the final two games of the regular season, winning both fairly comfortably. They should advance to Saturday’s semifinals comfortably, where they will either face an Ohio State team playing its third game in three days or a Nebraska squad that didn’t look particularly impressive as they backed into the fourth seed and final first-round bye.
A victory there would put Michigan into Sunday afternoon’s championship game, one of the final games on the schedule before the 68-team field is announced for the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans would love to join Michigan there, especially because it would give them a chance to redeem themselves after being swept in the regular season.
To get there, though, Michigan State will have to work a little harder than the Wolverines, thanks to its third-place finish in the regular season. The Spartans will most likely face Iowa on Friday, and although the Hawkeyes struggled late in the season, losing five of their last six games, they did beat Michigan by 18 points at home in February. The Spartans went 2-0 against them, but did need overtime to win at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
A win over the streaky Hawkeyes would almost certainly set up a Saturday semifinal against Wisconsin. Unlike Iowa, the Badgers are playing quite well, having won eight straight games before losing the season finale at Nebraska. They beat both Michigan and Michigan State during that stretch, including a rare road victory at the Crisler Center.
Michigan State’s chances against Wisconsin come down to the health factor. Before Spartan players started dropping like extras in a Michael Bay movie, Tom Izzo’s team was considered a strong Final Four contender. They are finally getting close to full health again, but were they as good as people thought back then? After all, their signature win over No. 1 Kentucky doesn’t exactly have the same shine now that the Wildcats are 22-9.
If Michigan State beats Wisconsin, they will probably be facing the Wolverines for a third time on Sunday, where a win could see the Spartans get some much-needed revenge and, in less exciting news, a possible No. 3 seed for the NCAA tournament. A Michigan win would cause great joy in Ann Arbor, depression in East Lansing and an outside shot at a No. 1 seed for the Wolverines.
If the final does turn out to be Michigan against Michigan State, though, no one is going to thinking about NCAA seeding until well after the end of the game.