It’s never happened. Not once. For as long as the two schools from the great state of Michigan have been playing basketball, they have never come across this particular occurrence once in any of their previous 169 match ups.
But on Tuesday it will happen. The two rival schools will square off for the first time ever while both being ranked as one of the top ten teams in the nation. In what will be one of the biggest rivalry games to be played yet this season, the 8th ranked Michigan State Spartans (20-4, 9-2) will welcome into town the 4th ranked Michigan Wolverines (21-3, 8-3). Tipoff is scheduled for 9:00 PM and will be televised on ESPN.
For the better part of the past 15 years, it has largely been Michigan State holding the upper hand in this rivalry. However, ever since John Beilein took over the reins at Michigan, the series has become more and more competitive and Michigan has even taken three of the past four contests between the two.
The Spartans come into this one on a pretty hot streak, winners of nine of their last ten games, the sole loss, a five point one against Indiana in Bloomington. On the other hand there’s the Wolverines, who after starting the season 16-0, and later grabbing the number one ranking, have hit somewhat of a rough patch in their schedule, losers of two of their last three games, most recently an OT loss to Wisconsin 65-62.
And now that brings us to this particular match up. The late season rivalry game where both teams are ranked in the top ten and are jockeying for position at the top of the most competitive conference in the country.
“I look forward to it each and every year,” Michigan State junior guard Keith Appling said. “I’m from Michigan so it means a whole lot more to me than it does to guys not from Michigan. It’s very exciting. It’s two very good teams competing for a Big Ten Championship.”
The most intriguing part of this game to watch will most certainly be that of the guard play. Led by both potential player of the year candidate Trey Burke (18.2 ppg, 7. apg) and Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.0 ppg), Michigan features one of the most dynamic back courts in the nation. Add into this mix both freshman sharpshooter Nick Stauskas and wing man Glenn Robinson III, Michigan starts four perimeter players all capable of knocking down a plethora of threes at any time.
“I think defending the three is a key,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. “But that’s part of their game. They are going to make some threes. We have to make sure we’re not, you know, taking away the pass of the team and giving up 300 yards running. We’ve got to try to alter what their strengths are and make sure they aren’t beating us on things their not strong in.”
Having that said, if Michigan State chooses to stick with their original lineup, both Appling and freshman guard Gary Harris will be held accountable for getting out on all these Wolverine shooters and keeping them at bay. And it looks like they are going to have to once again go without the aid of sophomore guard Travis Trice, who is still day-to-day with lingering concussion like symptoms.
“They have a lot of weapons so we’re going to have to get back and locate our man and be ready to lock down defensively,” Appling said. “Our defensive presence is not going to change. I’m still going to have to rely on my help side defense. But at the end of the day it’s going to have to come down to me guarding the ball. I feel like I’m a pretty good defensive player so it shouldn’t be that difficult.”
At the end of the day though, as both Michigan and Michigan State take to the floor to play each other in one of their biggest match ups in years, what lies at the heart of it all is still a great in-state rivalry game. And with so much at stake this year, it should be a very fun game to watch.
“It’s going to be a war,” Harris said. “Both teams are going to come out and they are going to play their hardest. It’s going to be a battle and we are just going to have to be ready to play. It’s going to be a good game.”
Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner