MSU showed no fear when it advanced to face the #2 Wisconsin Badgers tonight at 6:40pm tonight at the United Center in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament, in fact the Spartans sounded downright confident.
The Spartans upset the Badgers in East Lansing due in large part to an inspired performance by guard Drew Neitzel. Neitzel had earlier in the week lost his friend and mentor Adam Vissar, a high school assistant and youth basketball mentor who played a large part in the MSU star's development, to Lou Gehrig's disease.
The guard dedicated his performance that night to Vissar and exploded in an emotion-filled 28 point performance that had him and head coach Tom Izzo in tears following the monumental upset of the then #1 Badgers. That game likely solidified MSU's NCAA tournament bid.
Now as the team's prepare to face off in the rubber match in Chicago, Neitzel and his teammates are confident after nearly upsetting the Badgers a second time in Madison that they can are capable of whipping them on a neutral floor.
"They were both great games, they came down to the wire. It was TWO great teams battling it out. We both kind of play the same way; solid defense, don't pressure too much and kind of stick to our principles. I think it's going to be another great game tomorrow," said Neitzel.
Neitzel said it seems fitting to play a third game - kind of a rubber match - on a neutral floor like the United Center.
"Yeah, it's been a great rivalry, espcially in the Big Ten over the past few years. I think it's going to be a great game tomorrow."
Izzo gives his team a good chance of winning, not just against Wisconsin, but playing consistently enough that they could play in four games over the stretch of the Big Ten tournament, a scenario that would get them to the final on Sunday.
"I think when you have a team that can guard people like we can for the most part, you keep hunkering down," said Izzo.
"We shot 57% (yesterday against Northwestern), you can rely on that for one game, but you can't rely on that for four games. I think the defense is something you can rely upon for (all) four games and I think that gives us a chance.
Izzo made it clear, though, he wants nothing more than to whip the Badgers tonight.
"With the teams we're going to have to play to get there, starting with Wisconsin tomorrow, I can promise you, I'm thinking about nothing else but them."
Tonight's game will be televised on ESPN Plus, check your local listings to find which station will carry the game in your local market.