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Michigan State basketball: How hard is it to beat same team 3 times?

Will the Spartans beat the Buckeyes again?



Michigan State basketball
© Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball is facing Ohio State for a third time but how hard is it to beat a team three times?

There’s a popular saying in college basketball that it is hard to beat a good team three times in a season. And the Michigan State basketball team may possibly see both sides of this scenario in the next few days.

Just last night in the Big Ten Tournament, we saw Penn State beat Illinois for the third time this season, and Maryland take care of Minnesota for the third time. Hopefully this trend continues on Friday, but ends by Saturday.

The Spartans (19-11) will take on the Ohio State Buckeyes (15-18) Friday afternoon in a Big Ten quarterfinal matchup, after MSU won both regular season matchups between the two teams. Michigan State went into Columbus just under a month ago and came away with a 21-point win, then beat the Buckeyes once again just six days ago.

If the Green and White are victorious in that game, they will likely take on the top-seeded Purdue Boilermakers, who defeated the Spartans twice in the regular season.

Traditionally Michigan State has fared very well in the Big Ten Tournament when going for their third win of the season over another team. MSU has played in 17 games going for the trifecta, winning 11. But, it has been the Buckeyes that have bounced back after two regular season losses to Michigan State.

In both 2003 and 2009 the Spartans won twice over Ohio State in the regular season, only to be eliminated by the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Tournament, both times in the semifinal. However, it’s also happened twice, in 2008 and 2019, that MSU has entered the conference tournament with two wins over Ohio State and beaten them once again, both of those games coming in the quarterfinals.

Heading into Friday afternoon’s game, Ohio State has won four of their last five games, with the one loss coming last Saturday in East Lansing on Senior Day. Being that they are coming into the game with a sub-.500 overall record, perhaps the saying of being hard to beat a good team three times doesn’t apply.

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s story regarding MSU’s record in the Big Ten Tournament vs. each Big Ten school, the Spartans have a losing record against Minnesota (1-3). All three of those losses came after a pair of wins over the Golden Gophers in the regular season.

If it’s hard to beat a good team three times in a season, can you imagine how difficult beating the same team four times in a year would be? Michigan State did just that to Wisconsin in 2000 on its way to the program’s second national title. The Spartans beat the Badgers twice in the regular season, in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal, and then again in the Final Four.

Michigan State also does pretty darn well in the Big Ten Tournament when being faced with the possibility of losing to the same team three times. Five times the Spartans have faced a team in the conference tournament after being swept in the regular season, and only the 2004 Wisconsin Badgers accomplished the trifecta. In 2011, Purdue beat MSU by 10 in East Lansing, and by 20 in West Lafayette, but the Spartans turned the tables on Purdue in the conference quarterfinal with an 18-point victory.