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B1G Tournament Takeaways: Optimism for March run exists despite title game loss

Michigan had a good weekend, but just like their regular season, it just wasn’t enough with a title on the line.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Michigan vs Michigan State David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Basketball lost on Sunday to their rival Michigan State Spartans for the third time this season, this time coming in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament. It was, in many ways, just like the first two meetings with the Spartans going on a run late to capture a victory.

This time was different, though. Michigan’s lead got up to as much as 13 early on in the second half, but a charge from MSU was coming. It wasn’t not going to happen. And to Michigan’s credit, when MSU came back and made it nailbiter again, the Wolverines made some shots and plays down the stretch.

But for every play Michigan made, MSU responded. Whether it was magic around the basket from Cassius Winston, who is the nation’s best point guard (as far as this writer is concerned), or wide open shots from Matt McQuaid, who stepped in and played the role of Kenny Goins on Sunday in terms of players that they just couldn’t guard, the Spartans rode a 10-run down the stretch to walk out with the victory.

Of course, this comes with the hot takes of “Michigan is overrated!” or “this team is mentally weak!” but the fact of the matter is that the Spartans just have their number this year, as Michigan had theirs last year. It happens. This rivalry is awesome and Sunday was an electric atmosphere in a United Center in Chicago that was 50/50 in terms of attendance for each fanbase.

Michigan came for a battle on Sunday and was much, much more prepared than the last time out and were ready to fight to the end. Mental miscues hurt their chances, but nobody can argue that the two best players on the floor for either team were Winston and Xavier Tillman. It is what it is.

What you wanted to see out of this weekend (outside of a third-straight tournament title) was a team that developed in the six days between its regular season finale and postseason play. In the first two games against Iowa and Minnesota, shots were falling and that ball was moving around at an impressive clip. Even at times on Sunday, it was better than it was the last two times they met MSU.

Jordan Poole had a rough Sunday, but his play overall in the tournament was a step forward from what we had seen from him, especially going to the basket. Ignas Brazdeikis took a step forward and proved he can score on a big stage. Isaiah Livers is starting to find his scoring stroke and become a legitimate danger off the bench heading into the NCAA Tournament.

The return of Charles Matthews was good to see, and while he did not do much offensively, he was getting good looks at the basket and did not appear limited by the ankle/foot injury. Jon Teske proved again that Michigan is a totally different team when he’s making plays at both ends of the floor. His problem is he keeps missing everything from the perimeter short.

There’s a lot to like, especially the fact that they disposed of two teams they should have beaten in impressive and thorough fashion. A group with a lot of question marks heading into the Big Ten Tournament took well to its coaching and gave itself a chance until the very, very end.

We’ll discuss the NCAA draw in a separate piece, but I guess what I’m trying to get across here is that while it ended with some heartbreak and disappointment, one can’t help but feel a bit more confident about the NCAA Tournament after what they saw this weekend. MSU is a problem, and in a certain scenario these two could meet again in the Final Four.

Both of these teams are two seeds heading into the tournament and they played three times in the last three weeks. You usually only get those types of matchups once or twice a year. The Wolverines and Spartans have both now played in three of them against each other alone.

Don’t take that for granted.

It stinks and is disappointing, but there are anywhere from one to six basketball games left to play for Michigan. You can’t discount their experience against an elite opponent this year (you also cannot overvalue a blowout of North Carolina at home, either), but just know that it is experience.

Now comes the start of final exams. Season is over with the next loss.