Who: Michigan (14-15, 7-10) at Michigan State (23-7, 13-4)
Michigan heads to East Lansing with dreams of playing spoiler. The Spartans are 23-7 and playing for a share of the Big Ten Championship. Michigan is on the other side of the spectrum: fighting to reach .500 and a long shot to make the NIT.
It’s Senior Night in East Lansing and Michigan State is 61-5 at home over the last four years. Michigan’s last win at the Breslin came in 1997 and this doesn’t appear to be the best chance to break the streak.
Michigan State has had a bit of a mysterious season. They are poised to take a share of the conference crown but really don’t have much to write home about in the way of quality wins. They are just 3-4 versus the RPI top 50 with those wins coming over Gonzaga, Wisconsin, and at Purdue (without Hummel). To Michigan State’s credit they have avoided any bad losses even if they have eeked out a couple of those wins. This year’s team is a far cry from last year’s MSU team that had 11 top 5 wins at this point last year.
Michigan State has a distinct style of play. They turn a basketball game into a battle. Terms like “defensive pressure”, “boxing out”, and “foul” are redefined in East Lansing. This game will have a different level of physicality and it’s important for Michigan to be ready to play this way.
On the offensive side of the ball, Michigan State can beat you in one of three ways. First, they will try to beat you down the floor in transition. If that’s not there then they will delve into one of Tom Izzo’s numerous half court sets and probably end up with a nice look at the basket. Finally, they will crash the glass harder than any other team that Michigan will face this year.
Michigan State has rebounded 38.7% of their missed shots in conference play, this is the best percentage in the conference by a significant margin. Michigan’s defensive rebounding percentage of 71.2% in conference play is right in the middle of the pack but we have seen Michigan get dominated on the glass often enough to know that this is a serious concern.
There is also good news for Michigan, the Achilles Heel of this year’s Spartan offense has been turnovers. Michigan State turns the ball over on 20.9% of their possessions in conference play. That number is worse than every school besides Indiana and Iowa. Michigan has forced the most turnovers in conference play, forcing opponents to cough up the ball on 21.6% of their possessions. For Michigan to have a chance in this game, Michigan State has to turn the ball over like they did in the first match-up when they coughed it up on 30% of their possessions.
Turnovers and offense be damned, defense is where Tom Izzo makes his living. Izzo is a tremendous defensive game planner and he always brings his A-game versus Michigan. In John Beilein’s three games versus the Spartans, Michigan has not topped an effective field goal percentage of 41.5%. Harris and Sims have always had to work hard for their baskets and Michigan has just not ended up with very many great looks at the basket.
Michigan State doesn’t force a lot of turnovers so it will be critical for Michigan to hold onto the ball. Winning the turnover battle is the one thing that allows Michigan to make up for getting outrebounded. Turnovers and rebounds are just one more way to “extra possessions”.
- Kalin Lucas vs. Darius Morris: In the first game, Michigan received a stern reminder of how clutch Lucas can be. Morris has developed since the first match-up and will almost certainly be tasked to defend Lucas. He’s shown flashes as a great on-ball defender (Battle) but this will be a huge test for the freshman.
- Raymar Morgan vs. Zack Novak: Morgan was deadly in the first match-up scoring 20 points on 8 of 9 shooting. Michigan needs to figure out a way to slow Morgan, who has a large height advantage over Novak.
- DeShawn Sims vs. MSU Bigs: Michigan needs a big performance from Sims. He was just 4 of 13 on 2 point field goals in the last game and he needs to get it going inside.
- Durrell Summers/Chris Allen: Allen is Michigan State’s best three point shooter but he will undoubtedly spend much of his time and energy guarding Manny Harris. Allen was held scoreless in the last match-up but the streaky Durrell Summers always seems to hit a few big shots.
- Draymond Green: Green is the x-factor. He does a little bit of everything and seems to come up with the most important loose balls and offensive rebounds. He’s not physically imposing but he’s incredibly smart and also very strong underneath.
- Manny Harris vs. Chris Allen: I expect Allen to guard Harris for most of the night. Manny has yet to have a big game versus Michigan State and typically becomes frustrated trying to drive the lane.
When Michigan State has lost games this year it’s been because they were shot out of the gym. MSU opponents are 7-1 when scoring 1.06 points per possession or more and 5 of Michigan State’s 7 losses have come when their opposition shoots an effective field goal percentage higher than 55%. That doesn’t necessarily bode well for Michigan, as they’ve only been able shoot that well in a handful of games (Minnesota twice, at Iowa, at Penn State, Ohio State).
More specifically it comes down to three pointers. MSU tends to give up a few extra open looks from three point range because they hedge the wings to stop penetration. The teams that hit threes have fared exceptionally well. Teams shooting over 34% from three point range are 6-8 versus the Spartans while the teams under that mark are a meager 1-15.
The importance of Novak, Douglass, and even Lucas-Perry hitting some threes is monumental. These guys are going to take some shots and they will definitely get at least a few open looks. They just need to make them.
Michigan has a few magic numbers of their own. Michigan’s wins and losses tend to be related to their offense. They are 0-13 when they score under .99 points per possession compared to 14-2 when they top that mark. Similarly, Michigan is 12-0 when they score over 66 points and just 0-10 when they fail to reach 60.
I don’t usually buy into the “pressure” arguments but there is no doubt that all of the pressure is on Michigan State. They are playing for a championship and Michigan is playing for pride. Michigan has to come out and just play ball like they can. There’s literally nothing to lose but a win would be a nice way to close an otherwise disappointing season.
Pomeroy likes Michigan State 67 to 59 and gives Michigan only a 19% chance at the victory. I just can’t see Michigan State losing this one, I’ll take Michigan State 70, Michigan 58. Let’s hear your thoughts and predictions in the comments.
Other Notes: Practice? Michigan is unable to practice at Crisler this weekend because of the Big Ten Wrestling Championships so they practiced at the Breslin today. They’ll practice at Concordia tomorrow and then head back up to East Lansing on Sunday and just play.
Sam Hosey caught up with Trey Zeigler for an interview and feature. Trey plans to visit Arizona State and Duke before trimming his list then decide on signing day. Hosey also posted video from Mt. Pleasant’s loss to Saginaw Heritage.
That practice facility can’t come soon enough. DeShawn Sims rejected his invitation to participate in the Portsmouth Invitational. Coaches address official workload in the New York Times.