MBB Conference Tournament, Day 4: It's Showtime
As soon as Indiana fell in Friday's first quarterfinal, the paths were set: Purdue would advance in the top half of the bracket, Michigan State would advance in the bottom half, and the teams would meet for the title in a rematch of the only overtime game either team played in conference play (somehow Oakland took Michigan State to OT in December). There was work to be done before that matchup happened, though, and today was the last piece of that work. Purdue had the easier game, but both teams won to set up a showdown Sunday for the conference title.
At this point, results won't change much, if anything, in terms for the bracket. Michigan State likely has earned the fourth 1 seed, although who they displace depends on who you check (the Bracket Project consensus is North Carolina, who moved past Oklahoma for the top 2 seed prior to winning the ACC tonight; ESPN says it's Villanova, which ... idk, that seems harsh). Purdue should be a solid 4 even if they beat Michigan State, as it's unlikely they pass either Kentucky or Texas A&M, the SEC finalists. (ESPN has Kentucky as the last 3 and Indiana as the first 4, but either way Purdue would have to get past two teams for a 3.)
It turns out that my fellow bloggers have to post three times this week, which I'm sure is really digging into their weekend plans; J's recap of the Michigan game covers things nicely, so I'll move on to the other semifinal.
Denzel Valentine flirted with a triple-double again, putting up 18 points, 10 assists and 7 rebounds in 37 minutes. You'd think that was an indication of a safe win where Izzo left in Valentine just to make sure (like how Painter kept the starters in just in case), but instead, this was a game where the Terrapins led with 6:55 to go in the game and actually found themselves down 1 with the ball and 10 seconds left. A miss, two Valentine free throws, and the final score, 64-61, was in the books, but it easily could have gone the other way.
Maryland controlled the opening tip and scored on a Jake Layman layup to take an early 2-0 lead, but for the first 6 minutes or so, the lead flipped back and forth. At the under-12 timeout, MSU had built a 6-point lead, and a 6-2 run after the break gave the Spartans a 10-point lead, but an 8-2 Maryland run brought the Terrapins back within striking distance. A pair of Alvin Ellis III threes and two Valentine free throws put Sparty up 36-24, but Maryland ran off 6 straight to cut the lead in half; the teams traded baskets, and then Valentine ended the first half with another. Michigan State was up 41-33, and Maryland must have felt lucky to be that close.
The second half was a different story. Both teams went scoreless on their first two possessions, and then two Layman free throws and a Robert Carter dunk got Maryland within four. Valentine responded with a three, and for the next few minutes, Maryland got as close as four again, but no closer. Finally, just after the under-12 timeout, a Diamond Stone basket and a Melo Trimble three tied the game at 53. Maryland had two chances to take the lead, but missed a three each time, and finally Valentine hit another three to put MSU up again. Two Trimble free throws cut the lead to one, 56-55, at the under-8. A minute later, Carter gave Maryland the lead with two free throws, but a dunk by Deyonta Davis and two free throws from Matt Costello made it 60-57 with 3:13 to play. After two tense, scoreless minutes, Layman hit two more free throws to make it a one-point game. Costello lost the ball on MSU's next possession, but Davis blocked Stone's shot and Carter ended up fouling Valentine with 21 seconds left. Two more free throws restored the three-point margin, 62-59. Trimble scored six seconds later to cut the lead to one again, and Layman fouled Valentine immediately after the restart. Valentine surprisingly missed the front end of a one-and-one, leaving the door open for Maryland, but Trimble missed what would have been the go-ahead shot with 3 seconds remaining, and Valentine hit two free throws with a second left to finish it.
Maryland did a lot of good things against the Spartans: outrebounded them by 6 (10 offensive boards to just 4 for MSU; each had 28 defensive boards), turned the ball over just 4 times (MSU had 11), and went 17 of 21 from the line. They couldn't shoot well enough to win, though: .333 from the field, .364 from two. Trimble was just 2 for 15, 1 of 7 from three; Rasheed Sulaimon was 3 for 10 and 2 for 4, Layman 2 for 8 and 1 for 4. Carter was the one Terrapin to have a solid day on offense - 18 points, 6 for 10 and 3 for 5, plus 3 of 4 from the line - but his effort wasn't enough.
The Terrapins are now projected to be a 4-seed, which is probably a good thing, because now Lunardi can't keep pitting them against Purdue or IU in the second round. With Kansas and North Carolina the only other teams in contention for a 1 to win their conference tournaments and Virginia safely at a 1 as well (the loss to UNC shouldn't change that), it seems like the Spartans should be in prime position for a 1 seed themselves ... let's hope that if it comes down to Sunday's result, Purdue keeps MSU on the 2 line.
Game 13 - #4 Purdue (26-7) vs #2 Michigan State (28-5), 3:00 PM EDT on CBS
Previous meeting: 2/9 at Purdue (Purdue 82-81 OT)
NCAA status: Michigan State 1-seed, Purdue 4-seed
When these two teams last met, the Spartans had shaken off a three-game slump to beat Maryland; MSU was riding a four-game winning streak. The Good Guys had just lost to that same Maryland team in College Park, and worse, they hadn't beaten a top-25 kenpom team yet. They would go on to lose at Michigan later in the week, but this game was the green dot in the streak of red, as the combination of Rapheal Davis from outside and AJ Hammons from everywhere got the Boilers the marquee win they so badly needed. Davis ended up with 24, 6 for 28 from three (despite going 2 for 14 from two), and Hammons had 19 points, 13 boards and 8 blocks against the three-headed post monster that is typical of an Izzo team.
To record another upset and bring home their second Big 14 tournament title, the Boilers must win the inside game again (+3 rebound margin against the team leading the country in that category now) and limit Valentine's supporting cast (Costello had 11, Matt McQuaid 10 in the earlier game). If Purdue rotates slowly or fails to chase properly, especially Cline and Mathias, that will happen on occasion - just make the Spartans work for their twos. Despite leading the country from three, they take an average number of shots from three (35.3% of their shots are outside the arc, just under the DI average), so if Izzo's not playing the percentages, make him pay.
Davis, Edwards, Mathias and Cline have all had solid games from three this season; at least one of them must do this against MSU to prevent the HAMMONSTER from being swarmed inside. He'll get plenty of hacks and whacks; let's hope the clown show calls them so that AJ can convert from the line again. Haas has also been solid on offense since that loss in Ann Arbor, so Purdue will need that from him again when AJ is out to keep the pressure on Costello and his backups. Finally, Biggie needs to keep being the lean, mean rebounding machine he's been the last three games (8, 12, and 8). Don't give Sparty extra chances. We know the turnovers will be there, but hopefully the Good Guys can make up for that on the glass.
In theory, this is house money for Purdue. Lose and it's expected, win and you stun the Spartans twice in one season. In practice, it'll hurt if the Boilers don't pull this off, at least for a day. As Grant Hill said during the broadcast, Purdue has the talent to go all the way. When they play their best, they raise expectations to the point where you believe they should beat the winningest coach in conference tournament history (Izzo is 27-14) even if MSU has won 12 of their last 13.
I think it will be a great game. I think Denzel Valentine will turn in the first triple-double in conference tournament history. I think AJ will have a 30/10 game. But I think the Good Guys are going to fall one Cline three short of the win. MSU takes it, 86-84, and Purdue heads off to Des Moines as a 4 seed.
No NCAA update - I updated the last post with what Lunardi had done, and Bracket Project hasn't run their evening numbers, so we'll just wait and see what Sunday brings.