Game 24: Michigan at Michigan State Preview

Basics
Who: No. 22 Michigan (17-6, 7-3 B10) at No. 10 Michigan State (17-4, 6-3 B10) split-old-new-spartans-logo2jpg-80cf96e5cad6ebe9_large1[1]
Where: Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI
When: 1:00 p.m. ET, Sunday, February 5th, 2012
TV: CBS / Live Stream
Radio: MGoBlue, 950AM, 1050AM, Sirius 91, XM 91
More: Beilein Video / Novak, Douglass & Hardaway Video / Pick to Click / Last Game

Michigan and Michigan State’s basketball rivalry has been as one sided as any over the past decade. Analysts, writers and fans constantly declare the rivalry “renewed” on each glimpse of Michigan success. Despite that persistent optimism, the Wolverines never won more than a game in a row against the Spartans from 1998 until 2011. A win here or there can be chalked up to a heroic effort or a flash in the pan but rivalries are truly reincarnated through consistent success, specifically against the rival in question.

A Michigan win in East Lansing Sunday would be another resolute step in the right direction. It would be the Wolverines fourth straight victory over the Spartans and 15th win in their last 21 Big Ten games. It wouldn’t wipe out the last decade of Spartan dominance but it would be a firm reminder that the stakes of this rivalry will only increase in the years to come.

Michigan State at Michigan 6
Photo: Dustin Johnston

Tom Izzo’s Michigan State teams have been defined by attacking the offensive glass without abandon and this team is no different. The Spartans are the best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten, grabbing almost 39% of their missed shots, and enter this game after rebounding over half of their missed shots in a loss at Illinois. Despite Michigan’s reputation for running a “finesse offense based on the three point shot”, this Wolverine offense can score the ball and isn’t soft, proving their mettle in recent match-ups wit the Spartans. Michigan isn’t half bad on the defensive glass, ranking fifth in the league, and has thrived in late game situations this season, embodying a bit of the toughness required to win Big Ten games.

Michigan beat Michigan State in Ann Arbor a month ago but the Spartans have been the more consistent and effective team in Big Ten play. Michigan State has outscored conference opponents by .16 points per possession compared to Michigan’s .05. The Wolverines are a half game ahead of the Spartans in the Big Ten standings but both teams are within a game of first place. The importance of this game could multiply by Sunday’s tip off if Wisconsin is able to upset Ohio State at the Kohl Center this afternoon.

The Wolverines don’t have the pieces to completely shutdown Michigan State’s dominant presence on the offensive glass. The Spartans are going to get some rebounds just because they are bigger (Derrick Nix), stronger (Draymond Green, Branden Dawson) or more athletic (Adreian Payne) than the Michigan players attempting to box them out. However, Michigan can limit and contain the Spartans’ offensive rebounding attack and has the potential to hold them below the 36.5% offensive rebounding rate they grabbed in Ann Arbor. It’s tough to quantify “holding your own” on the defensive glass but the impact – second chance points – of Michigan State’s offensive rebounds might be the most important stat of the game.

Another key to the game lies in the box score’s free throw column. This isn’t about home court advantage or officiating conspiracy theories per se but Michigan’s defense relies on keeping opponents off of the free throw line. Michigan ranks first in the Big Ten in free throw rate (26.6% FTA/FGA) allowed but the last in free throw rate (28.1% FTA/FGA). Wolverine games have the fewest free throws for both teams and they are better equipped to win a game without free throws than with a heavy dosage of fouling.  The Wolverines need to play the disciplined defense that got them this far and avoid providing free opportunities for the Spartans or handicapping their limited depth with foul trouble.

Despite coming off one of their worst offensive performances in recent history, 41 points on 56 possessions at Illinois, the Spartans still have the league’s second most efficient offense. Their offensive rebounding prowess combined with consistent shooting inside (50.8%) and out (39.7%) has powered that attack with one exception: turnovers. Michigan State has turned the ball over on 19.4% of its conference possessions and the Big Ten Geeks point out that its offensive efficiency is more negatively affected by turnovers than any other Big Ten team. The turnover problem reared its ugly head in Ann Arbor as the Spartans gave the ball away on a quarter of their offensive possessions. Michigan’s defense, which forces more turnovers than every Big Ten team other than Ohio State, should be poised to exploit the Spartans turnover woes again in East Lansing.

Michigan State at Michigan 19
Photo: Dustin Johnston

Draymond Green’s knee remains a major factor in this game that’s impossible to judge at this point. After leaving the Illinois game apparently unable to walk, Green has practiced (both Thursday and Friday) and has proclaimed that it would take “death” to keep him out of this game. He rattled off a handful of other marvelous quotes including but not limited to: “Tell them to go at me and see if I can move”, “I’ve definitely got them figured out.” and “They hate us and we hate them. Or they might dislike us. But we hate them.” No one knows how Green will play. He hasn’t played well against Michigan over his career but six career games don’t define a player that’s a likely All-American. Green seemed to defer a bit offensively in the first meeting, opting to distribute the ball, but there’s no doubt that, if healthy, he’s capable of going out on a high note against Michigan on Sunday.

One side or another, someone is going to step up. Tim Hardaway Jr. told reporters on Friday that “you have to put stats aside” and “anything can happen and anybody can have their best game”. Last year it was Zack Novak and Stu Douglass in East Lansing and then Tim Hardaway Jr.’s huge second half in Ann Arbor. In the first match-up this year it was Trey Burke exploding for 20 points on 11 shots. Michigan fans, coaches and casual supporters will be looking to the No. 10 jersey, hoping for Hardaway’s first good shooting night since early January.

This just feels like a game Michigan State will win. The Spartans are undefeated at home and have been talking up this game for weeks. Ken Pomeroy gives Michigan a 15% chance at the upset and predicts a 10 point Spartan win, which is actually one point more than his computers projected for Michigan’s trip to East Lansing a year ago. The Wolverines know the recipe for beating Tom Izzo’s team but there’s little, if any, margin for error in this game.

Quotable: ”We don’t want to just beat Michigan. We want to blow them out.” – Derrick Nix

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