Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines aim for Big 10 men's basketball tournament title

Michigan forward Ignas Brazdeikis, left, goes to the basket while defended by Minnesota forward Eric Curry in their Big 10 game played in Ann Arbor on Jan. 22. (AP file photo)

By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
While it might not land a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Big Ten was arguably the nation’s top conference during the regular season.
The league’s upper-class depth and middle-class drama could make for a fascinating postseason tournament, which starts today in Chicago.
The conference has four teams with legitimate Final Four aspirations in Michigan State, Michigan, Purdue and Wisconsin. Maryland is also more than capable of making a run and there are a handful of talented, up-and-down teams like Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State looking to secure a brighter postseason future.
“I’ve been in every single tournament that we’ve had. I’m not sure we’ve had more people, whether you’re a 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, worried about the 10, 11, 12, 13 or 14 seeds like this year,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s just one of those years.”
The Spartans, Wolverines, Boilermakers and Badgers earned double byes and don’t start play until Friday.
The top-seeded Spartans (25-6, 16-4), who last won the league tournament in 2016, are expected to get injured star Nick Ward back this weekend.
The 6-foot-8 Ward, who was averaging 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds a game before breaking his hand in mid-February, should at the very least be able to spell Kenny Goins and Xavier Tillman in the post.
That Michigan State won a share of the regular-season title despite losing Ward for a few weeks and Joshua Langford (15 points a game) for the year to a foot injury in late December speaks to its resilience and depth.
Michigan (26-5, 15-5), the two-time defending tourney champs, blew a chance to win the league by losing to the Spartans twice in its final four games.
“I’m certainly not pleased with the way the regular season ended. But we were looking at a pretty good gauntlet going down the stretch,” coach John Beilein said.