Michigan, Michigan State ready for Big Ten ‘war’
by Nicole Auerbach, USA TODAY Sports
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Tuesday night, the fifth-ranked team in the nation will play the country’s eighth-ranked squad, a top-10 showdown with conference championship implications and bragging rights on the line.
Or, as Big Ten teams see it, just another night in the country’s best conference.
Indeed, top-10 matchups are common; Michigan’s played three in its last four games. With five Big Ten teams in the top 20 of the latest USA TODAY Sports coaches poll – plus Minnesota and Illinois, both of which have spent much of the season ranked – there’s no such thing as a light night in Big Ten country, as evidenced by the handful of buzzer-beaters, upsets and court-storms.
Michigan and Michigan State both know that. The two tip off Tuesday night with a share of first place in the league on the line. The game also marks the first time the Wolverines and Spartans have played with both ranked in the top 10.
“It’s what you look forward to,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said Monday. “If you’re playing a top-five team, a top-10 team, a top-seven team, a top-two team, compared to a team that’s not ranked, you know you’ve got to get up. There’s a feeling. There’s a buzz. You stop at the grocery store. You fill up your car with gas. Everybody’s talking about it. That’s what it’s like when you play top teams.
“If anyone wants to argue top-to-bottom this isn’t the best (league) by far, I wouldn’t even argue with them. It wouldn’t be worth hearing them.”
Michigan coach John Beilein said the level of competition he’s seeing today brings him back to a time, when he was much younger, when he was in awe of a dominant conference much like the one he coaches in now.
“I can remember being a small college coach, a high school coach, when the ACC was a monster – with Maryland, Duke, Virginia, North Carolina all being really good,” Beilein said Monday. “I watched those games, and I would say, ‘Wow, that’s a top-two team playing a top-eight team, and those games are wars. I wonder what that would … [For more on Michigan and Michigan State ready for another Big Ten 'war', click here.]