Michigan Basketball (23-5, 10-5) will host Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) on Sunday at Crisler Center. Tip off is scheduled for 4pm and the game will be televised on CBS.
This will be the second time this season, but just the second time ever, that Michigan and Michigan State will engage each other in a battle of Top 10 teams. Michigan is currently ranked #4 (but would plummet in the rankings with another loss) and the Spartans are ranked #9 and looking to avoid a third straight loss.
Michigan has lost 3 of their last 6 games and most recently suffered a disappointing setback at Penn State on Wednesday night. In addition to the Wolverines recent skid there are some other factors that are cause for concern. Michigan State has had a full week to prepare for this game. Michigan’s students are on spring break and as a result the Maize Rage will be absent.
Michigan find themselves at a crossroads here. Another loss will raise more questions about what ails this team. A win would steady the ship and give the young Wolverines a much needed infusion of confidence. What would be devastating is if Michigan plays poorly and gets run out of their own gym by the Spartans. I don’t expect that to happen, but I also did not expect U-M to post a 3-4 record in the month of February.
On Friday, John Beilein assured the assembled media that the sky was not falling on this Michigan team. The fact that he had to say that speaks volumes about the recent struggles of his squad. Some of the struggles can certainly be attributed to one of the youngest teams (8th youngest according to kenpom.com) in the country playing in the toughest conference that College Basketball has seen in a long, long time.
The good news is there is time to get things rolling in the right direction. Michigan is still one of the premier offensive teams in the country, averaging 1.18 points per possession, which ranks 3rd nationally. They still have the nation’s top backcourt in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. ”Besides us, I think they’re the best backcourt in the country,” Michigan State’s Derrick Nix said.
The return of Jordan Morgan seemed to stabilize Michigan’s defense. Then the final 10 minutes at Penn State happened and the Wolverines coughed up a 15 point lead and couldn’t prevent Penn State from scoring, almost at will. Defense wins championships and you know the coaches have made that clear. Now we wait and see if Michigan can put together 40 minutes of inspired play on the defensive end. Of course an added bonus to playing great defense is that it leads to fast break opportunities and there are few teams, if any, that are better in the open court than the Wolverines.
Predictions: So far this season I am 24-4 and Joe is 23-5 predicting the outcome of Michigan Basketball games. While neither of us think it’s a lock, we both like Michigan to pull out a key victory. Many will probably predict them to lose, but we both believe there is something special about this team and that will shine through with their backs against the wall on Sunday.
Joe: Michigan 81-80
Rob: Michigan 72-68
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