Big Ten Tournament: Michigan vs. Michigan State Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: No. 8 Michigan (25-7, 15-3 B1G) vs. No. 22 Michigan State (25-8, 12-6 B1G) MichiganState[1]
Where: Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
When: 3:30 p.m., Sunday, March 16th, 2014
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 1050 AM, XM/Sirius 91
More: Bracket Watch: No. 1 Seed?, Spartans want redemption

It’s fitting that Michigan and Michigan State’s first meeting in the Big Ten Tournament will be for the Big Ten Championship.

Michigan State traveled to Indianapolis in search of redemption after a disappointing conference season and is well on its way after trouncing Northwestern and beating Wisconsin.

Michigan doesn’t have to make up for any regular season faults or disappointments – the Wolverines won the Big Ten by three games – but the Wolverines are aiming for the coveted fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Beating their rivals for the third time and sweeping this season’s Big Ten hardware wouldn’t hurt either.

Dustin Johnston

The Spartans

Michigan State is one of the more balanced teams in the Big Ten and is ranked 4th in the Big Ten in offensive and defensive efficiency. The Spartans aren’t dominant on either end, but they aren’t as one-sided as other teams in the conference.

The Spartans are a good rebounding team, grabbing 32% of their misses (4th B1G) and 73% of their opponents misses (3rd B1G), but the key their success this season has been the three-point shot. Michigan State shoots more threes than any other Tom Izzo team and is the best three-point shooting team in the Big Ten, making 41% of its triples in conference games and 15 of 32 threes in Indianapolis.

The Spartans have struggled to get to the free throw line and hold onto the ball in conference play. Michigan State turned it over on 18% of its Big Ten possessions (9th B1G) and only attempted 33 free throws per 100 field goal attempts (10th B1G).

The Spartans had a great defense early in the season, but have struggled defensively down the stretch. Michigan State has allowed a point per possession or more in 10 of its last 14 games. Even in what looked like a blowout win over Wisconsin, the Spartans surrendered 1.20 points per trip. The Spartans do a great job of defending the interior, league opponents are shooting only 45% on twos (2nd B1G), but have given up the three as Big Ten foes are shooting better than 36% from long distance (11th B1G).

The first two meetings came down to Michigan’s offense being too good. Wolverine fans are familiar with the story by this point. Michigan can’t get a stop but just keeps scoring and the Spartans eventually can’t keep pace.  As we profiled after that game, Michigan beat up on Michigan State’s defense better than any Big Ten team in the last three years.



Michigan will face Michigan State with Branden Dawson in the lineup for the first time. Dawson provides a physical threat, an offensive rebounder and a great transition finisher. Dawson has made a couple jumpers from the elbows since his return, a shot that wasn’t really in his arsenal before. Other than that, almost all of his production is at the rim off of cuts, offensive rebounds or transition passes.

Gary Harris scored 48 points on 32 shots in two games against the Wolverines. He was 62% on twos and 42% on threes. He’s one of the best players in the country and he’s been devastating against Michigan. Caris LeVert has done his best defensively, but the real key to slowing him might be making him work on defense. He seemed to wear down just a bit in the second meeting, and both teams will be playing their third game in three days.

Click to Enlarge / More shot charts at

Keith Appling has shown some signs of rounding into form after his wrist injury, but he’s not all the way there. Before the injury, a third of his field goal attempts were threes and he shot 49%. Since the injury just 25% of his field goal attempts have been threes and he’s just 2-of-9. He’s showing signs of improvement and knocked down some elbow jumpers against the Badgers.

Denzel Valentine has been locked in from the right-corner. He’s 7-of-8 on right corner threes in February and March, but just 12-of-30 from the rest of the floor. He’s 13-of-22 from 3-point range in Michigan State’s last seven games and has been very active distributing the ball and rebounding.

Click to Enlarge / More shot charts at

Adreian Payne and Jordan Morgan are very familiar with each other. They’ve battled on the block for four years now and will have the chance to do it one more time. Payne is one of the two best bigs in the conference and has a great back to the basket game. His pick-and-pop game is nothing to sneeze at either and he’s extremely accurate on catch-and-shoot threes.

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Here’s a quick look at some of Payne’s post-up abilities from an earlier preview this season.

Payne has been a bit inconsistent since returning from his foot injury, but has the ability to dominate the game. Fouls and conditioning have been a bit of an issue since his return and neither team can afford for its starting big man to go to the bench with foul trouble.

Travis Trice gives Michigan State another knockdown shooter in the backcourt. Trice loves the left wing three, but he’s not a  threat attacking the basket.

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  • Control the defensive glass: Michigan did it in the first two meetings, but handling the Spartans on the defensive glass is a different challenge with Branden Dawson in the lineup. Michigan’s defense isn’t good enough to survive giving the Spartans second chances.
  • Transition defense: One of Michigan’s most fatal flaws is one of Michigan State’s greatest strengths. Michigan State runs off of makes and misses and really made Michigan pay the last time these two teams met at Crisler.
  • Ride the hot hand: Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas have been great against Michigan State and they’ve been incredible for the last month. They combined for 48 points on 16-of-28 shooting in the last meeting and hit a number of contested jumpers. The Spartans will hope that Dawson’s return helps their defensive effort, but Michigan needs its sophomore guards to dominate one more time.

Click to Enlarge / More shot charts at

Bottom Line

You couldn’t draw up a much more exciting finale to the Big Ten season. These two teams played a pair of great games in the regular season and both have plenty to play for heading into March Madness. Ken Pomeroy projects a narrow 72-71 Michigan victory, but gives the Wolverines just a 52% chance of winning.

  • Mith

    I wonder if the 3:30 start will affect the bracket. The selection show starts at 6:00, so I figure the committee will have two brackets to go in case of either result. BUT, what if the game runs into OT? Seems like there should be a little more space in there.

    • jakelam2116

      The general thinking is the committee will have its bracket completed before this game is done. It’s ludicrous to begin with that this game takes place so late and that the winning team gets such a short time to celebrate a great achievement. Not only that, but the outcome might not affect seedings — which, in this case, will probably be good for Michigan (1 see).

  • Wayman Britt

    With all Big Ten referees today and with MSU, this game is going to be big time physical. There will be lots of banging and clutching and grabbing. UM better be ready for it.

    • Nevin

      Yeah, I seem to remember Stauskas looking like he was attacked by a cat with multiple scratches on his arms.

  • jemblue

    Fatigue could play a factor with this being the third game in three days, and both teams being pretty 3-point-dependent. We had to play two tough games while they only had one, so that could be a problem. On the other hand, in both matchups this season, they seemed to fade down the stretch, like they were worse-conditioned than us. Could be interesting.

    • jakelam2116

      I’m curious to see how Payne holds up and how long Izzo keeps him in for stretches. After the game at Crisler, Izzo talked about leaving him in for too long in the second half.

    • subalum06

      I think you are right on..Coach said as much in the locker room interview a few posts back. Around 3:50 he says something like it all comes down to who has the best trainer, health foods and the gets the best sleep.

  • Mattski

    Hate to say it but the way the refs call it could decide here, along with the question of whether MSU decides to test both refs and Michigan with some very physical play early.