An unlikely semifinal match-up will finish up our action for Saturday in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament, as the Penn State Nittany Lions will fight to tighten their tenuous grip on a spot in the NCAA Tournament against a team that has already done just that this week, the Michigan State Spartans.
Both of these teams will be playing their third game of the tournament. Penn State started off the tourney by beating the Indiana Hoosiers, 61-55, and followed that up by lulling the Wisconsin Badgers to sleep in a 36-33 victory. Michigan State defeated the Iowa Hawkeyes on Thursday, 66-61, and then thumped the Purdue Boilermakers by a score of 74-56 last night.
The folks at Black Shoe Diaries are cautiously optimistic about the Nittany Lions' chances of advancing to their first-ever Big Ten Tournament title game.
There aren't many things in college basketball more difficult than beating Tom Izzo and Michigan State in March. The Spartans have earned all the headlines of their last two tournament runs for a reason: they're good and they know it. At the same time, the Lions earned their fair share this season as well, and for that reason, they'll don the white jerseys in this game. It might be little more than symbolic, but Penn State is the higher seed and needs to play with the confidence that should come with that. The Lions are good, too, and the stage is their to prove it to the world. Time to get it done and lock up a bid. A decade's wait is long enough.
At The Only Colors, the Spartan faithful are a little surprised at who they're playing today.
So, it's a bit of a surprise playing a team in blue instead of a team in red today. This is probably a good thing: empirically, Wisconsin is a better team than Penn State, and while MSU has lost games to the Lions in recent years (including this year), those difficulties are nothing compared to the struggles MSU has had against the Badgers in the Bo Ryan era. Games against Wisconsin are always emotional affairs for MSU, and no doubt avoiding the Badgers means that MSU will be less exhausted heading into the BTT championship and/or the opening rounds of the big Tournament.
Nonethless, MSU is only 4-2 against the Lions in the past three years, and many of the wins have been been of the nail-biter variety. As always, Talor Battle is the Lions' headliner, but Jeff Brooks (who should have been on one of the all-Big Ten teams) is a big threat down low, and performed very well against MSU in January. This game clearly means more to Penn State than to MSU: many bracketologists have PSU as one of the last 4 teams in, a position which very well may be compromised with a loss today. Conversely, MSU is probably safe at this point, but winning this tournament would bring more than a modicum of redemption to an otherwise disappointing season. You know Lucas, Green, Roe, Summers, Kebler, and the rest want this badly.
This one is set to tip off in about 20 minutes or so, and the action will be broadcast on CBS.