Why The Big Ten Tournament Is More Risk Than Reward for Michigan State
After blowing out Ohio State at the Breslin Center on Senior Day, Tom Izzo said he wanted to win back a conference championship he felt his Spartans let slip away.
They have their chance beginning tonight in the Big Ten tournament. MSU opens up with, you guessed it, Ohio State. It'll be the third time these two teams have played each other in 17 days. Way to go, conference schedulers!
Izzo and his players have been in lockstep on the topic of the league tournament, how they're already embracing the one-and-done mentality and want to win it. MSU fans, on the other hand, seem more divided on the issue, and rightfully so.
That's because the Big Ten tournament is utterly superfluous. Would winning it make for a nice addition to the Breslin Center trophycase and rafters? Sure. But it doesn't make or break this season--that's the tournament that comes after this one.
Michigan State would be best served to lose its opening game in the conference tournament, because it ultimately presents more risk than potential reward for the Spartans. Here's why.
No one wants to think about this, let alone mention it, but there's always a chance someone gets hurt. Playing three games in 72 hours (which is what the Spartans would do if they marched through the conference tourney) obviously raises that risk.
This issue is further compounded when you factor in Tom Izzo's open concerns about Denzel Valentine playing too many minutes. MSU has tried to get Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn Jr. more involved down the stretch -- he's already injured, by the way -- in an effort to save Valentine's legs.
What would benefit Michigan State more in its quest for a national title: raising a Big Ten tournament title banner or getting a couple extra days off for rest and preparation heading into the NCAA tournament?
I think the answer is obvious. Giving guys like Valentine, Nairn and Kenny Goins more time to rest and/or heal will help MSU more in the Big Dance than a conference tourney banner hanging from the Breslin Center rafters however many hundreds of miles away.
We know the players and coaches all say they want to win the conference tournament, because what else are they going to say?
But what does it prove?
Virtually every analyst and expert already believes MSU is the best team in the Big Ten, even though it didn't finish the regular season atop the standings. So what, winning the Big Ten tourney will convince the minority that the Spartans are the class of the conference?
Look, everyone knows State is a national championship contender. Everyone also knows the Spartans have the best players and best coach in this league. And everyone knows they're the Big Ten team playing the best right now. What else is there left to accomplish in this conference?
This season is about one thing and one thing only for Michigan State: a national championship.
The Spartans have arguably the best player in the nation. They have arguably the best coach in the nation. They have arguably the most experience in the nation as much of their Final Four roster from a year ago is back.
They are arguably the best team in all of college basketball. Whatever happens over the course of the Big Ten tournament will not change any of that.
And the outcome of the league tourney does not impact whether the Spartans can accomplish the ultimate goal: They can win the national title whether they flame out hard versus Ohio State in their first game or whether they dominate three teams en route to winning the thing.
That means that, ultimately, the Big Ten tournament is meaningless. And a lot of people--particularly older folks who can remember the days before the league had a conference tourney--don't give a damn about this thing.
You could make the case that many MSU teams and Tom Izzo himself, at times, didn't care about the conference tournament, either. After all, Michigan State's last five Final Four teams ('01, '05, '09, '10, '15) didn't win the Big Ten tourney.
It's no secret Michigan State would prefer to be placed in the Midwest Region of the 2016 NCAA tournament. That would mean the Spartans, if they were to advance, would play the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds in Chicago, which is home to a large MSU alumni base.
But many bracketologists and analysts say the Spartans would work their way up to a No. 1 seed if they win the Big Ten tournament. The problem with that is Kansas is widely believed to be locked in to the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, regardless of what happens in the Big 12 tourney. Translation: Winning the Big Ten tournament would make MSU the No. 1 seed in the West, where the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight are played in Anaheim, Calif.
Heading west and adjusting to a time zone three hours behind is not in MSU's best interest. The Spartans would much rather stay in their neck of the woods, even if it means being seeded right below Kansas.
Oh and by the way, MSU already beat the Jayhawks on a neutral court this season. If they were to meet again, it wouldn't be until the Elite Eight--and would you really pick against Tom Izzo versus Bill Self on a one-day turnaround? That's a match-up Spartans fans should be salivating over.