On Saturday in Evanson, Illinois, the Michigan State Spartans’ impressively long winning streak finally came to an end. A loss was bound to happen sooner or later this Big Ten season, and now the Spartans have the opportunity to regain a bit of hunger before embarking on a trip to Ann Arbor, where the Michigan Wolverines lie in wait.
It’s a long way from becoming Duke vs. North Carolina, but this season, both Michigan and Michigan State will enter a basketball matchup safely nestled within the top 25 for the first time in over a decade. This particular matchup lost a tiny bit of luster thanks to unexpected losses by both teams on Saturday afternoon, but when the dust settles Tuesday night, the winner will have new life, while the loser will be reeling just a tiny bit more.
Special guest Chris Burke (no relation to Trey Burke, we’re certain) who pens weekly editions of Wolverine Walkthrough on TDSS, joins Spartan Jump Shots to break down Michigan’s game plan as this instate rivalry shifts to the hardwood. How will either team emerge with a much needed win as well as bragging rights? Here’s the full breakdown:
(SJS) How Michigan State Wins: Stick like glue to Michigan shooters, rebound and pound.
Despite shooting 25 percent against Iowa, everybody knows Michigan’s major offensive threat remains their three point shooting. Last year, Michigan shot 47 percent from three in a big win at the Breslin Center. The Wolverines often catch fire in stretches from beyond the arc, especially if they are given time to set their feet with wide open looks. The results of that are often devastating for opponents, especially in Crisler Center, where battling back can prove difficult under a hailstorm of three pointers. To combat this, Michigan State must play their most aggressive defense of the year on Wolverine shooters, and stick to them like glue wherever they go. Be it Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. or even Stu Douglass, Spartan defenders cannot leave anyone out of their sights for long shots. Keith Appling will need to play his usual stout defense, and the Spartans will need to get contributions from the longer Brandon Wood and Branden Dawson to make life miserable on Wolverine shooters. The Spartans must rebound with authority, push the ball up court and pound their offense through the post. Outside of Jordan Morgan, Michigan’s post game can be exploited, meaning Derrick Nix, Aderiean Payne and Draymond Green need to see plenty of touches down low. If Michigan State guards well on the perimeter, closes off the boards and pounds the ball in the paint, they can take control of the game early on.
(Wolverine Walkthrough) How Michigan Wins: Find a groove on offense.
The Wolverines were unable to get anything going at Iowa last week, and they’ve had major issues in the first half at times. That includes Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan’s leading scorer, who has struggled to get going against some better opponents. For the Wolverines to have a chance to come away with a huge victory on Tuesday night, they need Hardaway Jr. to get hot early, Trey Burke to play with the confidence he’s shown all season and the rest of Michigan’s complementary players — Evan Smotrycz, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass — to jump in and put some points on the board.
(SJS) Michigan State’s X-Factor: Brandon Wood.
A guard of Wood’s caliber is something the Spartans were sorely lacking last season in both of their match ups with Michigan. Wood can create his own shot, is fearless when driving to the basket and also has sneaky range from beyond the arc. Most important, he is a long defender and can help lock down the Wolverine guards. Wood’s face isn’t one which will grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, and his name isn’t one which will often jump out in the box score, but he contributes a solid 10 points per game and does the little things that have helped the Spartans surprise many this season. If Wood plays his usually sound game (or exceeds it), Michigan State will be in good shape.
(Wolverine Walkthrough) Michigan’s X-Factor: Blake McLimans
First and foremost, Michigan could use a big game from Jordan Morgan, who has been underwhelming this season and often has found himself in foul trouble. Up against the Spartans’ big bodies, Morgan must hold his own. But McLimans figures to see some time up front, which could go one of two ways — either MSU will outmuscle and dominate him or he’ll pitch in a few rebounds and help stretch the Spartans’ defense with some outside shooting.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 69.5 percent, which represents Michigan State’s free throw average thus far this season, ranking 145th nationally. For the sake of argument, Tuesday’s matchup is largely a push, with Michigan not rating much higher in shooting 70.8 percent from the charity stripe this year. In close road games where nerves are shattered, the final minutes will often become a free throw shooting contest. We’ve already seen the Spartans miss them late against Wisconsin, which nearly led to a sticky situation (Draymond Green missed two which would have rendered a last second controversial Wisconsin three pointer meaningless). Things weren’t pretty on Saturday either, as Michigan State only made 17 of 27 free throws in a seven point loss to the Wildcats. Those 10 free points could have made all the difference between winning and losing a close road game. The Spartans are going to have to bear down and make more free throws on Tuesday if they are serious about winning.
(SJS) Intangible: Two Michigan State losses to Michigan last year.
After a spring and summer of hearing it from the fans, media, and in all likelihood Tom Izzo, the Spartans have probably gotten sick of reliving last year’s heartache, where Michigan swept the season series and won at the Breslin Center for the first time since 1997. Due to that, expect the Spartans to come into Tuesday’s matchup feeling like they have something to prove. Year to year, every team is different, but Draymond Green and his Spartans likely took both losses very personal last year, and burn to beat their rivals again. Michigan will obviously bring passion as well, but can they match the wounded animal mentality Michigan State could possess due to last season’s missteps? It’s an important story line to follow, and watch for the answers both early and late in Tuesday night’s game.
(Wolverine Walkthrough) Michigan’s Intangible: The home crowd.
Michigan’s 14-4 record has been fattened up by an 11-0 mark at the recently-renamed Crisler Center. It wasn’t that long ago that the Wolverines had little home-court advantage to speak of, so the turnaround in recent years has been a pleasant one. Keeping the home fans energized all night Tuesday will be critical.
SJS Prediction: The Spartans will be eager to prove that last season was a fluke, and just as ready to shake off Saturday’s loss against Northwestern, which was a very winnable game. Michigan will attack, and don’t be surprised to see the Wolverines surge ahead or back into the game using the three pointer and the creativity of Trey Burke. Expect Tim Hardaway Jr. to have a better game, and expect Keith Appling to play just as well for the Spartans. This clash will be a back and forth affair, but the Spartans’ hardened late game mentality will come through for them on the road as it has often this year. They make their free throws, and tough out a tight game that could go either way.
Michigan State 74, Michigan 70
Wolverine Walkthrough Prediction:This is a tough one to pick. Both teams played poorly Saturday, and each has advantages — Michigan State should win inside and on the glass, while Michigan can get hot from outside and has its fans on its side. As we’ve seen with these matchups lately, plan on it to go down to the wire. But give Hardaway Jr. and his teammates the edge at home.
Michigan 68, Michigan State 64