Back on Jan. 25, the Michigan basketball team went into the Breslin Center and came out on top of a battered Michigan State squad 80-75. At the time, both Michigan and MSU were at the top of the Big Ten standings. Sunday’s rematch of the in-state rivals will feature the same stakes, with the teams alone at the top of one of the toughest (if not the toughest) conferences in college basketball. The game will tip off at noon on Sunday and will be broadcast on CBS.
Here’s a hype video for your viewing pleasure:
One of the things Michigan has struggled with over the course of the year has been getting off to a slow start in big games. In recent games against Iowa, Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Wolverines were sluggish and sloppy out of the gates. Luckily they were able to overcome a double digit deficit against the Buckeyes to salvage one of those games.
At home against MSU, Michigan needs to use their home court to their advantage and start the game hot. Getting the crowd involved early will give them a big boost. The student section should be ready to go, as they begin lining up at 7 a.m. on Sunday.
Michigan needs to get Glenn Robinson III involved early, as he has been a consistently under-performing. GRIII has been held to single digits in five of the last seven games, and Michigan lost two of those games. He needs to get aggressive and be a force, as the Spartans will be focusing on Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert defensively.
Stauskas vs Harris
In the first game between Michigan and MSU, Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris were the top offensive performers. Harris guarded Stauskas for the most part, but the Canadian still managed to score 19 points, including shooting 5-for-6 from three-point territory. Harris scored a game high 27 points, hitting four threes.
Ever since the Jan. 25 game, both stars have had their share of struggles. Teams have figured out a way to limit Stauskas by placing small, quick guards on him. This has prevented Stauskas from creating his own shots, as his foot speed is a step behind guys like Aaron Craft. In Michigan’s last three losses (Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin), Stauskas managed to score just 6, 10 and 11 points in those games. Unless someone else steps up in a big way (I’m looking at you, Glenn) then Michigan could be in trouble.
Harris also hit a cold spell up until Thursday’s game against Purdue where MSU broke a school record, hitting 17 three-pointers. Harris made six of those, and finished with 25 points. Since the Michigan game in January, Harris has hit just 16-of-50 three-point attempts (32 percent). This is just below his season average, which sits at 34 percent, but he shot much better last season, finishing 41 percent from deep. Perhaps his break-out game against Purdue will turn things around for Harris, but it will be a different atmosphere as he will be shooting in the teeth of the maize and blue crowd.
Spartans back to full strength?
Both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson missed the first game against Michigan due to injury. Payne is back and ready to go, but Dawson remains in question at this point. He broke his hand prior to the first game against the Wolverines after becoming frustrated during a film session and punched a table. The pins from his hand were scheduled to be removed Thursday, just three days before the Michigan game. Dawson give MSU another guy that can defend and score down low, which was something they were missing in the first game.
Michigan was able to take advantage of the MSU injuries in the first game, as they actually won the rebounding battle 35-29. If they can somehow replicate this on Sunday, it gives them a major advantage. Even with only Payne back, this will be even more difficult for Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, who have filled in nicely for injured Mitch McGary.
This will be another hard-fought battle that will go down to the final minutes. This will be a different MSU team with guys coming back from injuries, so that only makes things more difficult for Michigan. However, the home court advantage will play a factor as well. I expect Gary Harris to get his shots, and make a good amount of them. Guys that worry me for the Spartans are Adreian Payne and Keith Appling. Michigan needs to limit these guys. Derrick Walton Jr. had a coming-out party in the first game, and he will be an x-factor once again. He’s a guy that hits big-time shots and he will get another opportunity to prove he is the second coming of Trey Burke. Michigan has won five of the last seven games against their in-state rivals, but this game is almost too close to call.
I like the Wolverines at home to pull out the victory in the final seconds, 78-76. It should be a fun afternoon in Ann Arbor!
Speaking of that Burke guy… Here’s the last time MSU visited the Crisler Center:
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