Michigan State looking for redemption against Michigan


Dustin Johnston

INDIANAPOLIS — No fan on either side of the Michigan-Michigan State divide needs reminding of how the rivalry between the Spartans and the Wolverines played out this season. Michigan notched a clean sweep of Michigan State, beating the Spartans home and away.

And now the in-state rivals will meet again in the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game.

It’s a script pulled from Hollywood, if it was written by a Michigan State fan. Keith Appling and Adreian Payne, the beloved Spartan seniors, will now get one final shot at redemption against the Wolverines.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Michigan State junior Branden Dawson said in the locker room after the Spartans defeated Wisconsin in the semifinal game on Saturday. “That’s what we’ve been talking about as a team. We know that tomorrow their fans are going to be tuned in and our fans are definitely going to be tuned in and they’re going to come out ready to play and so are we.”

Dawson perhaps occupies the greatest role in a possible reversal of fortune for the Spartans against Michigan. Dawson is the only player in the rotation to miss both games — Payne missed the first matchup but played in the second. The Gary, Ind. native could effectively negate the matchup advantage Michigan held when Michigan State was forced to put Keith Appling on Nik Stauskas.

That matchup yielded a number of 3-pointers for Stauskas, who was able to simply rise up and fire over the 6-foot point guard. Stauskas is undoubtedly a problem for the Spartans as he scored 44 points in two games against the Spartans on 16-of-25 (8-11 3pt) shooting.

Against Dawson, who stands 6-foot-6 and is every bit the athlete Glenn Robinson III is, those opportunities simply won’t be there. Dawson sees himself as providing an advantage for the Spartans on switches off ball screens — Michigan’s bread and butter offensively.

“Just switching on the four man — I can guard Stauskas, I can guard those small guards,” Dawson said. I would say helping on defense and just switching and doing what coach says.”

There’s also quite a bit of history between Dawson and Glenn Robinson III. The two played on the SYF Players AAU team, along with Michigan State guard Travis Trice.

“I didn’t get to play against those guys, and I’m ready,” Dawson said. “I’m excited to play against teammates — we all played on the same AAU team, me Glenn and Travis. So I think we’re excited and we’re definitely looking forward to it.”

Two players who are especially looking forward to the rematch are Payne and Appling. Both are seeking redemption against the Wolverines – the Spartans are just 2-6 against the Wolverines in their four years – and now have the opportunity to go out with a win against their rival.

“It’s a great opportunity. Two pretty good teams going head-to-head,” Appling said in the locker room following Michigan State’s semifinal win. “Those guys got the best of us in the regular season, so it’s a great opportunity for us to try to get some revenge and at the same time win the Big Ten Tournament Championship.”

While there has been a lot of focus on Tom Izzo consistently commenting on his team’s injury woes over the course of the season, it should be noted that the Spartan players themselves consciously avoided talking about injuries when recalling the past matchups between these two teams. While that was a major storyline after both games, the players are clearly not thinking about it.

Michigan State junior guard Travis Trice said the team is focused on now being healthy instead of making excuses for past games.

“I don’t want to make any excuses. They beat us,” Trice said. “You can’t take anything away from them, because who knows if their guys were sick or hurt or not feeling well. Only thing now is, we’re all the way back and if we play to the best of our ability, we’re the better team and we’ll win.”

Both teams will enter the championship game riding high. Michigan is playing its best basketball of the season, and even though it’s coming off a couple of close games its confidence level remains high. Michigan State feels it is finally getting back on track after devastating mid-season injuries and a run of mediocrity to close out the regular season.

Adreian Payne was almost giddy when he talked about the matchup on Sunday.

“It’s great we get to play them again, especially with Branden being able to play them again because he missed them for two games we played them,” Payne said. “It’s going to be a great game.

“It’s going to be a battle.”

  • Rich74

    I can just picture the Spartys being “giddy” for another chance at us. They have huge motive to trounce us. I would not be surprised if they (state) play out of their minds and win easily. Hope I am wrong.

  • Geoff

    Michigan’s playing well, but I don’t buy people saying they’re playing their best basketball of the season. For my money, the team’s best stretch was the away Wisconsin/home Iowa/away MSU series. The offense is generally hitting on all cylinders now, but I think Michigan’s defense has actually deteriorated in the last few games. For my money, the team has entered “can beat anyone/can lose to quite a few teams on any given day” territory.

    • Indiana_Matt

      Maybe. But at the same time, not too many teams nationwide have that “can beat anyone” status. And I agree we definitely have it. Would it shock me if we lose? No. We are not that far removed from the Iowa trouncing. But we have that potential to beat ANY team in the nation. Makes for exciting stuff as a fan.

  • guestavo

    Even if Dawson is every bit the athlete that GR3 is, GR3 wouldn’t be able to guard Stauskas. Blow by or cushion for pull-up jumpers and don’t even think of playing Dawson tight on LeVert or Walton.

    • The big boost for Michigan State will be more versatility switching screens probably with Dawson at the four.

      • guestavo

        Hopefully we can exploit that much like Wisconsin did in the second half today

  • Burke_Does_Work

    We’re going to have to play our best ball to beat them tomorrow. Not only is Dawson back, but Payne is playing better (he missed a bunch of FTs and open shots against us in the 2nd game), Valentine is knocking down a bunch of 3s, Gary Harris is being Gary Harris, and probably the most important factor, Keith Appling is playing like he was earlier in the season. Our first two matchups, Appling didn’t even attempt to shoot it, but now he’s feeling confident and knocking down jumpers. Walton and Spike better be ready because I feel like he’s going to surprise them if they think he’ll play as poorly as he did in the first two matchups.

  • Chezaroo

    Biggest concern for me is if the officiating crew lets State use their physicality to muscle us around or not. If it’s loosely called we will have trouble with that aspect. Conversely if it’s called tight, we can put a lot of pressure on them with dribble drives. For some reason it seems to me they expected to be here, while we have survived and advanced. It would make my year if we beat them again.

  • Burke_Does_Work

    I really hope we win tomorrow because I would’ve been fine with exiting early in the tourney if it meant we would be assured a 2 seed, but now that we’ve made it so far it would suck to lose to our rivals and lose a potential 1 seed after all of this hard work and close games.

  • Wayman Britt

    Don’t get me wrong I would love UM to win tomorrow, but beating a team three times in a season is extremely hard especially when their is not a wide gap in talent. It will be a fun game, but if UM comes up short I won’t be too sad.
    Bring on the big dance and other teams from other conferences.

  • BlueBear_E

    If getting the 1 seed means playing in the East with Villanova, wouldn’t we rather be the 2 seed in the Midwest? I like the match-up against Wichita St. better and we would play closer to home right?

    • Bigrange

      Getting the number two seed, it would be likely that they are put in the Midwest region, with a chance to play again in Indianapolis for the Regionals.

    • arsenal926

      there’s enough Michigan alums in NYC that I think the east would be a bigger home court advantage. Also there’s a possibility that Louisville would be the 3 seed in the Midwest which I wouldn’t want any part of at the moment.

  • Champswest

    Bring it on.