Victory over Michigan State brings Michigan one step closer to Big Ten title

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Michigan vs Michigan State_40Draymond Green, Saginaw native and former Michigan State captain, was back in his home state on Monday. Green, playing for the Golden State Warriors, was facing off against the Detroit Pistons at the Palace of Auburn Hills. (Photo: Scott Mapes)

The Warriors easily dispatched the Pistons, but it wasn’t an entirely warm homecoming for Day-Day. After all, his alma mater had just lost the previous afternoon to Michigan in Ann Arbor, 79-70. The win completed a season sweep of the Spartans by the Wolverines and made Michigan 6-2 against Michigan State over the past eight games. Green was asked about Michigan possibly displacing Michigan State as the premiere basketball powerhouse in the state. Much of his answer smacked of bitterness, a player hurting for his former teammates. But one piece stood out.

“They’ve got to hang some banners,” Green told a bevy of reporters after the game. “They hung one last year but we do that on the regular. So until they can hang some banners, we run this state.”

Michigan fans, obviously aware that the Wolverines have hung a banner after each of the last two seasons, understandably have little patience for Green’s comments. But they should also know that particular comment was echoed — in spirit, if not in words — by Michigan coach John Beilein immediately after Michigan’s win over Michigan State on Sunday. Beilein was speaking on what more the program can strive for after winning a Big Ten championship two years ago and going to the national championship game last season.

“Consistency is the thing that Wisconsin, and Michigan State and Ohio State lately have been able to do,” Beilein said during his post-game press conference. “They haven’t had fall-offs. This is the Michigan goal right now. We have to stay competing for Big Ten championships going forward. Their kids don’t know what it’s like to not go to the NCAA tournament. That’s the mentality we want.”

So in a way, Green and Beilein share common ground. Green believes Michigan won’t be at Michigan State’s level until it hangs numerous banners over the course of decades; Beilein would like Michigan to hang banners consistently because he knows his competition, and the coach is nothing if not a competitor.

Michigan’s victory on Sunday was important for a few reasons, not the least of which being its significance regarding the Big Ten regular-season title. Going in, the stakes were high, and Michigan played like it. The win gave Michigan sole possession of first place in the conference and places them a half game ahead of the Spartans. With nothing but winnable games left on the schedule, Michigan controls its own destiny.

The win was important also because it’s an intrastate rivalry game between two schools that, whether their respective fan bases admit it or not, each measure themselves against the other. Winning six of the past eight matchups means something to Michigan, just as doing the same would mean something to Michigan State. It’s ignorant to suggest otherwise.

“It means a lot,” Glenn Robinson III said after the game. “Especially going into Michigan State last year and getting blown out. That wasn’t a great feeling. To be able to get the victory both times (we played them this season) means a lot to us, and especially our senior, Jordan Morgan. It was his last time playing Michigan State. We wanted to go out there and get the victory for him.”

That being said, it was clear the game meant more to the players as one of the final stops on their way to accomplishing their goal of a Big Ten championship. Just ask Nik Stauskas, who was almost dismissive of the rivalry with that larger goal in mind.

“It’s huge,” Stauskas said of the win. “Not just with the history, but with what we’re trying to achieve right now, being Big Ten Champions. We need this game and this one was important for us.”

That’s what you can count on with this team. No matter how big the win — whether it was winning at the Kohl Center for the first time since 1999, beating Michigan State at the Breslin Center to cap a grueling three-game stretch or winning on the road against Ohio State for the first time since 1993 — Michigan keeps its main goal in mind. This Michigan State team will go on the trash heap among the other casualties of Michigan’s march to the Big Ten title, should the Wolverines arrive at their destination come the end of the regular season.

The argument of which team owns the state is pointless. For the moment, Michigan has a stranglehold on the head-to-head matchups. But unlikely like minds John Beilein and Draymond Green agree that Michigan still has a few banners to hang if it wants to compete with Michigan State’s history. It could be on its way to doing just that with only a few more wins.

“It’s part of the formula. You have to beat Michigan State,” Beilein said. “I’ve been here for seven years. [Every year] Michigan State is in the mix (for the Big Ten championship).”

That’s the element unique to a rivalry game now thrown into the national spotlight after many years of dormancy. The stakes have been raised in the context of the Big Ten conference, but in the context of the state of Michigan, they remain the same.

Beilein’s right: you have to beat Michigan State to win a conference title. But you also just have to beat Michigan State.

  • tjm32

    Mitch tweeting “#TheReturn” and the back and forth with Bacari…am I reading too much into it?

    • TimgColo

      That would be something to behold, Mitch McGary in the BIG tourney or the real tourney. But hoping that if he does play this season it is in the best interest of his future.

      • Mattski

        Fun to contemplate, and even some minutes could represent some great D against troublesome opposing big men, a fresh set of potential fouls. I don’t think he goes unless the docs and staff are VERY sure of themselves.

    • mistersuits

      Yes, don’t read too much into it. He’s just getting pumped up about his own rehab process (rightfully so), which is going to take months.

  • Mattski

    If we’re going to talk decades, let’s note that MSU’s recent run–predicated largely on the implosion of the M basketball program around the Fab V–is also finite. Michigan leads the all-time head-to-head by a good margin (90-76). Two out of the last three, and a single game away from three of three, is not a bad start to righting the ship; nor is six of eight. Gotta play the games, and don’t want to just match ourselves against MSU, but Beilein’s doin’ alright. And he’s doing it with class, not excuses.

  • Cazzie Russel

    gah I got sucked into the MLive comment section there for a minute, after I clicked on the Draymond Green link. Fortunately I came out unscathed.

    • MH_20

      Same here. I feel a little dirty now.

  • UMHoopsFan

    For those of us who don’t live in Michigan, or at least for me, the “who owns the state” question is less important. In my view, every demon has been exorcised – UM as won in every building, gotten to an equal footing with all of its rivals, won a B1G title, gone to the championship game, etc. It would be nice to win an outright B1G title, but all that’s really left is to try win the big one and keep racking up banners — all well playing/watching fun basketball with high-character guys. The rivalry piece adds some extra spice — and I think UM looks to be set up better for the next couple years too, at least — but it’s not quite the obsession In the end, I will take our coaches, players, and program against anyone in the county. It’s a great time to be a Michigan basketball fan.

    • Burke_Does_Work

      If we could just beat Indiana in Assembly Hall one of these days, I’d be pretty darn pleased. Those guys have our number.

  • Kenny

    I think that it is clear to everyone, even most State fans, that Izzo’s magic is over. Given their weak 2013 and 2014 recruiting class, the next season or two would be worse for them.

    • guestavo

      I’m not so sure. They are in line for some good 2015 and 2016 classes.

      • UMHoopsFan

        Those 2016 guys won’t help much in the “next season or two.”

        • guestavo

          I fully expect them to make the tournament as a low seed next year. Then I think they get a class like Deyonta Davis, Gill Caesar, Trevor Manuel and Eric Davis. Cassius Winston, Caleb Swanigan and Miles Bridges in 2016. All those players would be pretty similar to the team they have now.

          • UMHoopsFan

            Well, making the tournament as a low seed is worse than than they’re last couple years and below their exepctations, right? So you’re not disagreeing with Kenny. You don’t have to disagree about everything.
            And we’ll have to wait and see what happens with 2015 and 2016 guys.

          • guestavo

            More so directed towards that “the Izzo magic is over” comment…

          • UMHoopsFan

            Well, the natural reading of Kenny’s statement is that the magic is over in that the next couple of years will be relatively down for them. But whatevs.

          • guestavo

            MSU has had down years before so I’m not comprehending how that statement would have been read as such. Regardless, Michigan is back on equal footing and that is all that matters.

  • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

    As expected, nothing but class from Beilein. The excuses continue from the other side – but why not, since the the local and national media have bought into it. They can keep living in some what if dreamland. But when Michigan makes excuses, watch out, the local media is all over that as sour grapes.