CHICAGO — Cassius Winston accelerated into the lane and laid in Michigan State’s 47th and 48th points of the day. After being down by 13 points just 10 minutes ago, the Spartans had come back to tie the game with 7:15 to play.
When I walked over, all lowered their laptops in unison. This is not a public operation. Washington and assistant coach Luke Yaklich will take me through their scouting process, but neither dares to divulge a single detail about Michigan State.
There are varying answers for when that identity took hold. The correct one doesn’t particularly matter. It’s here now. It’s been here since the beginning of the season, and the Wolverines have lost five games. They play in the Big Ten Tournament final tomorrow. This is normal now. It has been normal for a long time.
Saturday afternoon against 7th-seeded Minnesota, 3rd-seeded Michigan (28-5 overall, 15-5 Big Ten) displayed those championship habits and then some, storming out to a 76-49 demolition of the Golden Gophers (21-13, 9-11). Just as the Big Ten regular-season title did last weekend in East Lansing, the tournament crown will come down to Michigan and Michigan State.
That leadership, though, manifests itself best when he’s taking the ball up the court, springing teammates into open looks before returning to the other end and making sure Michigan’s opponent can’t do the same.
And for the next 30 minutes, Simpson did exactly that, leading the Wolverines to a 74-53 win.