The Wolverines won the league regular season championship, something that had been expected of the Spartans as the season began. But then the injuries came: shooting guard Gary Harris, center Adreian Payne, power forward Branden Dawson and, most important, point guard Keith Appling all missed multiple games.
The Spartans thus entered this tournament with the No. 3 seed. Heck, when the season began, they were No. 2 in the nation. But after a comfortable quarterfinal win Friday against No. 11 seed Northwestern, they played with savage efficiency against Wisconsin and avenged an earlier regular-season loss.
Center Frank Kaminski had an amazing game for the Badgers (26-7); he scored 28 points and they recovered from a 17-point halftime deficit to trail by six with 10 seconds left. They will miss a chance at a No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed and a chance to earn a Big Ten championship of one kind or the other.
Dawson was the most impressive of the Spartans. He scored 14 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and played as aggressively as in any game since he broke his hand late in the season and missed nearly a month. He made a 14-foot jumpshot that showed he is expanding his range and impressed, as well, by grabbing a defensive rebound, driving it into the break and drawing a foul.
Payne scored 18 points to lead Michigan State, with Appling contributing 10 points and six assists and no longer avoiding the loose ball scrums that had been absent from his game as he protected and injured wrist.
It has been a common position among basketball analysts that if MSU were healthy it would rank among the nation’s best teams. We may be finding out if that hypothesis is true.