But the Badgers won't ever settle for Michigan State. They have too much respect for the Spartans, for the history between the teams and the coaches, to feel any inkling of a letdown. Wisconsin-Michigan State has been arguably the Big Ten's best interstate rivalry the past 15 years, and it will add a historic milestone Sunday at the United Center: The Spartans and Badgers never have met in the Big Ten tournament championship.
Each team has its own driver entering Sunday. Wisconsin (30-3) can add to the best regular season in team history with a Big Ten tournament title. Michigan State (23-10) can slay the league's top two teams and affirm that despite some flaws, it again is a legitimate threat in March.
But at the core, all the teams need to get going is to look at the other bench.
"It's a perfect ending for Bo [Ryan] and I to be here," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said after his team upset Maryland 62-58 in Saturday's semifinal. "We've had some wars together. We've had a lot of great games, played for championships.
"This is the dream that I have every year: My team to be able to play for a championship. There's nothing more exciting."
Wisconsin aims for its first Big Ten tournament title since 2008 and will try to build on arguably its best defensive half of the season in the final 20 minutes Saturday against Purdue. The Badgers, who grabbed 12 offensive rebounds against the Boilers, held a 35-24 rebounding edge against Michigan State in the teams' only regular-season meeting, a 68-61 Wisconsin win March 1 at the Kohl Center.
"Offensive rebounds are huge," Wisconsin forward Nigel Hayes said. "You get a new shot clock so you can work the defense, make the guys run, potential for fouls. And we made a lot of our second-chance shots."
The Big Ten tournament has afforded Michigan State a chance to revise its season narrative. After two regular-season losses to Maryland, the Spartans overcame first-half deficits of 12-1 and 23-9 to rally past the Terrapins. Freshman forward Marvin Clark Jr., playing his first college game in front of his mother, Donette Miller, sparked Michigan State with a thunderous baseline drive and jam. Fellow reserve forward Matt Costello scored all 10 of his points in the second half as the Spartans overpowered Maryland.
Izzo needs even more from his front line against Badgers star forward Frank Kaminsky, who scored a season-high 31 points against Michigan State on March 1.
"It's not like he's some scrub," Costello said. "He's going to be a top-five pick. He's the best player in the nation, so we've got to take care of our job and have team defense against him. ... We've got to do a better job of taking him out of the game. We did a terrible job at Wisconsin."
The Spartans will need more from senior Branden Dawson, who can win his third league tournament title Sunday. Izzo benched Dawson for the start of the most recent Wisconsin game after Dawson struggled against Minnesota. It didn't work, as Dawson had just four points and two rebounds against the Badgers.
Clark said Dawson "wasn't as energized as he should have been, and that trickled down to our team." Izzo doesn't disagree and said more than once Saturday, "We were there. I'm not sure we played them."
"I just have to play better," said Dawson, who had 17 points and eight rebounds Saturday. "There's really nothing much else you can say."
Wisconsin can cement itself as the Big Ten's best Sunday. Michigan State, meanwhile, might finally be realizing how good it can be.
"That's what you work for," Izzo said. "You're able to stand somewhere and say you're better than the rest."