It’s been a long time since the Michigan Wolverines and Michigan State Spartans have played a basketball game with dramatic Big Ten title implications, but Tuesday night, that will be the case once again. With both teams surging in 2013 and ranked comfortably within the top 10 of the polls, there’s some added spice to this year’s annual in state hardwood shootout.
The Wolverines are on the heels of a hearbreaking overtime loss in Wisconsin. Michigan State dominated Purdue, escaping their road trap and setting up a showdown in East Lansing. If the Wolverines win, they’ll hang a critical loss on the Spartans and get back to the top. If Michigan State gets the job done, Michigan will have a fourth loss and be looking up at plenty of teams. Today, Spartan Jump Shots and Wolverine Walkthrough combine powers to set the table for this big game. We’re ready to go. Are you?
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: Overwork Michigan down low.
With Jordan Morgan still hobbled and Glenn Robinson III hitting a bit of a freshman wall in conference play, the Spartans need to exploit Michigan’s lack of depth down low. Mitch McGary will be the Wolverines’ best chance to match up, and he’ll have to be contending with the likes of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne all night long. If Payne matches up with Stauskas, Michigan won’t have a chance of stopping the Spartans. When Nix and Payne are both in double figures, given the great play Michigan State enjoys from Keith Appling and Branden Dawson, the Spartans usually win by double digits.
Michigan’s Key to Victory: Wake up Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III
Trey Burke continues to be Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. is playing at a high level and Mitch McGary has developed quickly this season. So, why is Michigan 1-2 in its last three? Simple: No one else is helping.
The Wolverines jumped out to their hot start with Stauskas lighting it up and Robinson flashing a dynamite all-around game. Neither has maintained that pace, with Robinson in particular fading in road games.
When Michigan is firing on all cylinders, it’s offense is nearly impossible to stop — defenses cannot overcommit to Burke without being burned elsewhere. In its current form, however, the Wolverines’ attack is too similar to last year’s inconsistent unit, which featured, Burke, an up-and-down Hardaway and the occasional production of Stu Douglass and Zack Novak.
Michigan State’s X-Factor: Derrick Nix.
Nix has been the one player who’s struggled to put everything together at all times this season. In this game, with Michigan’s lack of interior depth, Nix will be needed huge as a dominating force on the boards and around the rim. If he can team up with Adreian Payne and do damage on the stat sheet, Michigan might not have an answer and it could be a long night for the Wolverines.
Michigan’s X-Factor: Jordan Morgan’s health
Morgan seemed to be inching closer to a full return to the lineup, only to be shut down at Wisconsin. Was that the result of a setback or the Wolverines saving him for Michigan State? If it’s the latter, then Michigan’s chances Tuesday greatly increase.
But if it’s the former, Michigan will have trouble defending and rebounding against the physical Spartans. McGary can only do so much, and Jon Horford had a brutal game in Wisconsin.
Most Important “State” Stat Of the Game: 29 and 10, the amount of combined points and rebounds from Nix and Payne on the road against Purdue which led to a comfortable win. The Spartans worked the middle against the Boilermakers well. To win against Michigan, they’ll have to do the same. Burke and company will get their baskets shooting jump shots, but in order to emerge victorious, the two big men have to dominate like they did on Saturday night on the road.
Most Important “Michigan” Math: 40.7, Michigan’s 3-point shooting percentage. If the Wolverines sail over that number, Michigan State will have to work hard to match them point-for-point. A tough night from the outside almost certainly will guarantee a Michigan loss — even with Burke and Hardaway penetrating, there’s not enough elsewhere to nickel and dime a road win.
Michigan State’s Intangible: Lack of respect.
This is not to say the Spartans have been completely disrespected nationally, but with Michigan occupying the top five for most of the season, naturally, there’s been a tendency to overlook Michigan State just a bit in their own state, no matter how well they’ve been playing. It’s a state they’ve dominated for the last 15 years but perhaps not as much the last few, so bet on the Spartans to take this personally and put forth a fine effort at home. There will be chips on plenty of Michigan State shoulders come tip off time on Tuesday night.
Michigan’s Intangible: Fatigue vs. redemption.
This game marks the close of a brutal four-game stretch for Michigan, which falls before a very manageable six-game finish. Michigan plays four of its final six at home, with the two road trips to Penn State and Purdue.
In other words, the Wolverines have a terrific shot to finish strong, but it may not matter in the Big Ten race if they drop Tuesday’s game. So, will the Maize and Blue cave in the final leg of this grueling patch? Or will they try to put Saturday’s horrible loss in the past by reclaiming a spot as one of the nation’s elite?
SJS Prediction: Michigan’s a team with excellent guard and wing play. The Spartans need to hope Appling can frustrate Burke enough to make that match up a wash, while hoping they can control Tim Hardaway Jr. as well. They’ll all get theirs, and the Spartans match up decently in the backcourt. The trump card? Post play. Michigan State will win or lose this game in the paint, as they need to take advantage of the Wolverines’ flaws down low and draw fouls early and often. With Nix, Payne, and Dawson’s ability around the rim, the Spartans have a clear advantage over the Wolverines. Michigan struggles on the road, and the Spartans have been circling this game. Michigan State hangs a tough loss on Michigan, remaining at the top of the Big Ten. Michigan State 70, Michigan 64
WW Prediction: I think Michigan is the better team here. But will that matter Tuesday night, at Breslin, with Jordan Morgan possibly out of the lineup? Physically, the Wolverines still match up decently against MSU, with some advantages here and there (like at point guard). The key will be inside the paint. Michigan needs McGary to come up large again — and he’s playing maybe as well as any Wolverine right now. As with all of Michigan’s road games, this one goes down to the wire. This time, I think the Wolverines get the late shot they need. Michigan 67, Michigan State 65
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax