Wildcats and Spartans mix it up in Big Ten tourney

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Updated: 3/14 10:49 am

Indianapolis, IN (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-seeded Michigan State Spartans will play their first game of the 2014 Big Ten Conference Tournament on Friday night, as they square off with the 11th-seeded Northwestern Wildcats.

The winner advances to the Saturday's semifinal round, where it will face either Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Northwestern pulled off the upset of sixth-seeded Iowa in Thursday's first round, upending the Hawkeyes in a 67-62 final. It was sweet revenge for a NU squad that had lost a pair of games to Iowa during the regular season. Northwestern's triumph was its first in the conference tournament since 2011, and it was the first win for any No. 11 seed since 1999.

Michigan State held the No. 1 ranking in the nation at one point early in the 2013-14 campaign, but losses in seven of its final 12 games cost the team a shot at the Big Ten regular-season title, and an even higher seed in this tournament. Still, the Spartans are one of the most successful teams in this event, logging a 19-13 record and claiming three crowns, the most recent of which was won in 2012.

Michigan State owns a commanding 84-38 lead in the all-time series with Northwestern, which includes victories in 19 of the last 21 meetings. The Spartans posted a pair of double-digit wins over the Wildcats during the regular season.

Northwestern turned in an exceptional effort at both ends of the court against Iowa on Thursday, knocking down 52.3 percent of its total shots, which included an 11-of-23 showing from 3-point range, while at the same time limiting the Hawkeyes to 32.3 percent field goal efficiency and only 25 percent from beyond the arc. Tre Demps scored a game-high 20 points, while Drew Crawford and Dave Sobolewski both hit double figures as well with 15 and 10 points, respectively. Crawford and Demps combined for 11 of the team's 14 assists, while Sobolewski, Demps and Alex Olah each finished with six rebounds.

Michigan State, which has made a single-season school record 257 3-pointers this season, is fortunate to have one of the top scorers in the conference on the roster in Gary Harris (17.5 ppg). Certainly not the only talented member of coach Tom Izzo's club, guys like Adreian Payne (16.1 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Keith Appling (12.8 ppg, 4.8 apg) both have the ability to take over a game at a moments notice. Despite the pitfalls they faced late, the Spartans own significant advantages in both scoring (+10.4) rebounding (+4.6) on the season, and will surely try to use every tactic at their disposal to not only knock off the Wildcats here, but to continue their assault on all comers in the postseason.

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