Saturday night’s Big Ten tilt between No. 7 Michigan (26-4, 15-4 Big Ten) and No. 9 Michigan State (24-6, 15-4) that will see the winner claim at least a share of a Big Ten championship feels like something out of a Hollywood movie script according to Wolverines sophomore Jordan Poole.
“This is like the stuff you see in the movies” exclaimed Poole. “At Breslin, nationally televised game against a rival that already beat you, Big Ten championship on the line. It’s not really too much more you could ask for. This is the kind of situation you dream to be in. This holds a little bit something more than a normal game”
For the Wolverines, Big Ten dominoes over the last seven days have fallen in their favor to give Michigan a shot at its first Big Ten regular-season championship since 2014. Michigan State lost at Indiana last Saturday, and No. 11 Purdue lost at Minnesota 73-69 on Tuesday. Michigan coach John Beilein had to rely on unorthodox methods to keep track of the Boilermakers game vs. the Gophers earlier this week.
“I was actually flying during the game, but I have learned that I can text,” Beilein said. “My wife, I had to put her through that, where she texted me the entire game. I had to remind her that the time is really important, she would say they’re up by four, and I would say how much time? By the time I landed, I knew the score, and I was happy. It’s great for college basketball; it’s great for these two programs. It’s a twenty game season, and it comes down to this.”
If Purdue loses at Northwestern Saturday afternoon, Michigan and Michigan State will square off for an outright Big Ten championship. Both teams will know what is on the line by about 5 PM on Saturday. For Poole and fellow sophomore Isaiah Livers, Saturday’s game holds extra significance not only for a chance at a championship but the pair would like to get the win after losing to Michigan State for the first time earlier this season. Michigan’s sophomores are 1-0 at Breslin Center, and want to keep that winning record intact.
?It has to remain the same, I was talking to Jordan about that the other day,? said Livers, a Kalamazoo native who takes extra pride in this rivalry. ?My first (career) start was actually against Michigan State, so that?s kind of huge to keep a tradition of winning going on at Breslin Center.
That trip to Breslin Center last year featured some celebrations by former Michigan forward Moe Wagner and Poole that Spartan fans won’t soon forget.
“They are definitely gonna remember Moe being the villain and Jordan doing this (putting his hands to his ears) after the game,” said Livers of Michigan’s win at the Breslin last January. “They (the crowd) are gonna be amped up and they are probably gonna go after Jordan so he shouldn?t be surprised.”
Junior Zavier Simpson, who was a freshman when Michigan lost at Breslin in January 2017, believes a tough road environment will not faze his team against the Spartans.
“The Big Ten has crazy road games, the away atmospheres are crazy,” remarked Simpson. “With the talent we had this year I feel like we kind of got a boost of confidence. I felt like Penn State was loud, Maryland was pretty loud, Iowa was loud, Wisconsin was loud. So it?s not about the environment there, it is more about ourselves and just focusing in because at the end of the day, once the ball is in the air everything kind of squares out.”
Beilein, who remarked after the Wolverines 77-70 loss to Michigan State at home on February 24th “There is so much more to our season than beating Michigan State,” is excited for the opportunity to have two of the nation’s best programs go toe-to-toe with a banner on the line to finish the regular season.
“We have had a lot of big regular season games,” replied Beilein when asked if Saturday marks the biggest regular season game of his tenure. “You know when the big regular season games are? Is when you don?t go to the NCAA tournament if you don?t win that last game. Those are big regular season games. This is great, whoever wins it can be champion, and we are going after that championship. We?re not gonna look back and say we have two other chances to win a championship; this is a championship we want to win. I?m not gonna put it as this is the greatest game of all time, but this is a great game between two storied programs.”
For a rivalry that has been about as even as possible over the last decade (Michigan State leads the series 10-9 since the 2009-10 season,) both programs have accomplished great things. Michigan and Michigan State both have two Final Fours, with Michigan playing in two National Championship games. The teams have combined for four (soon to be five) Big Ten regular season championships, each program winning two including sharing the 2012 title. They’ve also combined for five Big Ten Tournament Championships, including the last three and four of the previous five.
It only too fitting that the two teams face off against one another with a banner on the line in one of college basketball’s signature venues on the final day of the season. Hypothetical college basketball writers couldn’t have written a better script if they tried.
No. 7 Michigan and No. 9 Michigan State will face off Saturday at 8 PM inside the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Mich. The game can be seen on ESPN with Jason Bennetti, Dan Dakich and Molly McGrath on the call. Follow @WolverineLounge and @ByJaySarkar on Twitter for updates in-game and beyond from East Lansing Saturday.