No. 6 Michigan State, No. 10 Michigan battle for Big Ten title
To say that Zavier Simpson is enjoying the Big Ten tournament is a little bit like saying that Mike Trout is a good fastball hitter.
Simpson has directed two lopsided wins for 10th-ranked Michigan (28-5), enabling the Wolverines to take a third crack at No. 6 Michigan State (27-6) in Sunday's conference championship game in Chicago.
The junior point guard scored 15 points and dished nine assists Saturday as Michigan routed Minnesota 76-49 for its 10th straight Big Ten tournament victory. That came less than 24 hours after a 10-point, 11-assist performance in a 74-53 blowout of Iowa.
Simpson has mixed in some sterling defense. Hawkeyes guard Jordan Bohannon managed just two shot attempts and failed to score Friday night, while Gophers guard Dupree McBrayer went 2 for 8 and scored only five points Saturday.
The totals for two games for Simpson: 25 points, 20 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, one turnover and two near-perfect performances. His next goal is an unprecedented third straight conference tourney title against an in-state rival that has beaten the Wolverines twice in the last three weeks.
"We'll do everything we can to change that, but they're a really good team playing well," Michigan coach John Beilein said of the Spartans. "It's two great teams playing, so let's see what happens."
The next moment of suspense either endures will be one more than either had Saturday. Michigan State never trailed in a 67-55 win over Wisconsin in the first semifinal.
The Spartans led 27-10 just over 12 minutes into the game, and although the Badgers closed within six at one point in the second half, they never really applied serious pressure. Michigan State kept them at bay by holding them scoreless for more than seven minutes.
By doing so, the Spartans positioned themselves for a potential No. 1 NCAA tournament seed with a win Sunday.
But the win might have come with a price -- another ankle injury for gritty point guard Cassius Winston. He scored 21 points and dished out six assists, but played the second half at less than 100 percent and limped off the floor when he was subbed out for good in the last minute.
"I just asked him if he could grit out the second half, and you know what? He gritted it out," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "Cassius has been on adrenaline for a while. At halftime, I didn't know what was going to happen, but his adrenaline kicked in and got him through parts of another half."
The stakes for the Wolverines are high as well. A win would likely elevate them to a No. 2 seed and would also enable them to get the last word in a rivalry that is beginning to approach Duke-North Carolina in terms of national interest.
"When it starts to matter nationally, then you've got something special," Izzo said. "We got what the media wants, what the fans want, and what the coaches want. It's important that big games matter."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 17, 2019