The top two teams in the Big Ten will collide on Sunday when the No. 13 Michigan State Spartans (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten) travel an hour up the road to take on in-state rival No. 20 Michigan Wolverines (18-7, 10-3).
Tip-off is scheduled for 12:00 pm ET and will be televised on CBS.
To read various writers for isportsweb with their take and prediction on the game, click here. For a breakdown preview of the game, stay right here on this page and take a look below.
The last time these two met:
The last time the Spartans and the Wolverines met, they met as a pair of undefeated teams in Big Ten play in East Lansing back on Jan. 25. In that contest, the Spartans were playing without two of their starters, as both Adreian Payne (foot) and Branden Dawson (hand) sat due to injuries, doing away with the advantage they would have had on the inside.
Gary Harris did all he could to put the Spartans on his back, finishing with 27 points on 9 of 16 shooting, but it wasn’t enough as Nik Stauskas (19 points, 4 assists), Derrick Walton Jr. (19 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists) and Caris Levert (17 points, 8 rebounds) led the Wolverines to an 80-75 victory over the Spartans.
Match up to watch for: Gary Harris vs. Nik Stauskas
Whenever the leading scorer on both teams plays the same position, the match up is certainly one to look out for. Nik Stauskas (16.7 ppg) is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country, shooting it a very efficient 44 percent clip, while Gary Harris (17.8 ppg) is just a flat out scorer. While he had been in a bit of a shooting funk recently, he appears to have maybe come out of that, after going 6 for 9 from downtown in a victory over Purdue on Thursday, finishing with 25 points.
Both of these guys will likely run through screens to get open all afternoon long, and with Harris and Stauskas both playing at the shooting guard position, they will likely be guarding each other too. It will definitely be fun to watch these guys go at it on Sunday.
What about the rest of the back court?
The rest of the back court between the two teams matches up quite evenly. Aiding Stauskas for Michigan will be Caris LeVert (13.0 ppg), Zak Irvin (7.5 ppg) and also freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. (8.4 ppg), who has really come on of late and has proven that he can make an impact in a game, just as he did last time out against the Spartans, when he finished with a 19 points.
For Michigan State, they’ll counter with Keith Appling (13.9 ppg, 4.9 apg), Travis Trice (7.2 ppg), and Denzel Valentine (8.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 3.8 apg). Appling has been hobbled as of late with sore wrist which had kept him out of the action for three games. However, he has played in the last two contests for Michigan State, and while he has yet to locate his shooting stroke, he did finish the last game with 9 assists.
While Appling has been struggling with that wrist though, Trice has stepped up in a big way for the Spartans over the past five games. With a 22 to 2 assist to turnover ratio during that span, he has proven he can be a player Michigan State can rely upon.
This looks to be an area that should swing in Michigan State’s favor. Even without leading rebounder Branden Dawson still sitting out with a broken hand, Michigan State will have one of the most versatile big men in the country in Adreian Payne (16.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg) to fall back on.
How Michigan inside men like Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Glenn Robinson III guard him will be key, as Payne is both a threat down low, but is also huge threat from the outside where he shoots 44 percent.
X-factor: The three-ball:
It’s no question that both of these teams are in love with the three-ball. Michigan State and Michigan both jack up over 21 3-pointers a game, making just over eight of those. And in Michigan State’s last game against Purdue, they connected on 17 3-pointers, including 13 in the first half.
You can live and die by the three and that appears to be the case with both of these teams. When things are all said and done, this one may just come down to whoever was hotter from downtown.