5 takeaways from Saturday: Michigan State eyes Purdue, No. 1 seed

1. Michigan State will need its best against surging Purdue

Michigan State has a chance to lock up a No. 1 seed with a Big Ten Tournament title, but it won’t come easy if Purdue continues its current run and the Spartans play like they did against Maryland in the semifinals Saturday. If not for Denzel Valentine rebounding his own missed free throw, the Terps could have had a chance to win the game in the final 10 seconds instead of Melo Trimble’s 55-foot prayer at the buzzer.

Valentine finished with 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, standing out in a spot where fellow Player of the Year candidate Buddy Hield was unable to break through in Oklahoma’s loss in the Big 12 semifinals. Michigan State led for almost the entire game but could not put Maryland away, and Valentine, in his second straight game flirting with a triple-double, had to help his team out in other ways when shots weren’t falling early. This game wasn’t about glamour and glitz, but more about getting stops and rebounds in crucial second-half possessions.

But making the small plays might not be enough Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten title game against a Purdue team that has won five in a row and blasted Michigan, winning by 17 behind a great performance from A.J. Hammons, Saturday in Indianapolis.

Sunday’s title game between Michigan State and Purdue can be seen on CBS.

2. Seton Hall is the team no one should want to face in the NCAA Tournament

Seton Hall won its first Big East title in 23 years, capping a tremendous bounce-back season for Kevin Willard and the Pirates after backsliding out of the tournament picture a year ago. The Pirates are going to enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the nation with just one loss in the past month. There’s not a team in the field that should feel comfortable eyeing a matchup with Isaiah Whitehead and Co.; look for the Pirates around the No. 4 or No. 5 seed line, and don’t feel bad picking them to knock off a contender. Check out Matt Norlander’s dispatch from Madison Square Garden for more.

3. Stony Brook finally broke through

After heartbreaking losses kept good Stony Brook teams from breaking through, Jameel Warney took over against Vermont in the America East final to book the Seawolves’ first trip to the NCAA Tournament in program history. Stony Brook trailed by as many as 15 points in the game but the senior big man forced the issue on nearly possession in the second half and finished the game with 43 of the team’s 80 points, along with 10 rebounds and four blocks.

4. North Carolina has transformed into a potential No. 1 seed over the course of seven days

Entering the regular-season finale against Duke, Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson had never won at Cameron Indoor Stadium or been a part of an ACC title team, tournament or regular season. Seven days later North Carolina has all three, plus the potential of a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to wins against the Blue Devils, Pitt, Notre Dame and Virginia.

It has been a revenge tour of sorts for North Carolina, finally getting over on a Duke team that has had its number and won two national titles since UNC’s last banner, ending the slide against Mike Brey and Notre Dame then finally finishing an ACC Tournament title game after letting the opportunity slip away before, and doing it against a damn good Virginia team. Two years ago, it was Virginia who snuck up onto the top line at the last minute after doubling up the ACC regular-season and tournament championships. Now it’s the Tar Heels, and all they can do is wait for Sunday evening at Roy Williams’ house — “Wicked Wanda” will do some cooking for the entire team, he said — and see if they’ll be back in the same spot they were in 2009, the last time they won the ACC Tournament.

5. One of the craziest plays of the day was one that didn’t work.

Jeff Jones drew up an awesome play for Old Dominion at the end of the Conference USA title game against Middle Tennessee. Watch as the entire Blue Raiders team thinks the play is a desperation heave only to let a player sneak behind them because — surprise! — it’s an alley-oop.

Denzel Valentine stuffed the stat sheet with a near triple-double on Saturday.(USATSI)
Denzel Valentine stuffed the stat sheet with a near triple-double on Saturday. (USATSI)

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