Michigan looking for more against Michigan State

Zach Shaw

It’s no secret that the Michigan basketball team left plenty to be desired in its 80-67 loss to No. 22 Indiana. Trailing by as much as 26 in a humbling defeat, the Wolverines showed major holes from top-to-bottom and on both sides of the ball.

“It just left a bad taste in our mouth,” said junior forward Mark Donnal. “We came out flat … no one wants to play like that.”

But on Saturday, Michigan (7-3 Big Ten. 17-6 overall) will have another chance to secure a signature win. The Wolverines host No. 10 Michigan State, and are fully aware they will need a vastly-improved effort to stand a chance.

The Spartans (6-4, 19-4) are among the nation’s elite on both ends of the floor, leading the nation in eFG% defense and the Big Ten in scoring defense. Michigan State is on a three-game win streak, outscoring opponents by an average of 24.7 points per game in the process.

“The way they’re playing right now, is I think as good as they’ve played in the last couple years,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “After that Nebraska game, they have really been a great team. … Denzel Valentine at the point guard is a big issue for everybody to deal with.”

Valentine, who is averaging 18.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists per game, is certainly the Spartans’ (and maybe the nation’s) top player, but Michigan State rolls out several players that provide matchup difficulties for Michigan. As a team, the Spartans spread the ball around, leading the nation by assisting on 72% of their made field goals, and both forwards Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis are garnering attention for their play down low, putting the undersized Wolverines in a corner.

“We expect them to go two-big,” Beilein said. “And we don’t have much of a choice.”

For the past half-decade, the Wolverines have relied on a four-guard look that features someone like Zak Irvin at the four position. Irvin guarding Davis is a tough sell, but Michigan’s best bet is that Irvin makes it just as difficult for Davis to guard him on the perimeter.

Michigan, which has played essentially seven players in recent games, could have some additional lineup flexibility if senior guard and leading scorer Caris LeVert returns. Though Beilein was mum on LeVert’s status for tomorrow, he did note that the senior had a strong practice on Thursday, and could be getting back into game shape.

Simon Kaufman of The Michigan Daily cited sources saying that LeVert could play against Michigan State.

But with or without LeVert, the Wolverines will look for extra effort to keep up with the Spartans.

Michigan State has seen its ups — reaching No. 1 in the country after running the table in the non-conference slate — and downs — losing four of its first seven Big Ten games — but appears to be peaking once against as the calendar rolls into February.

“They probably execute their offense and their defense as good as anybody in the country,” Beilein said. “You’ve got to match that. You’re not going to get any easy shots, and you’re going to have to guard for (30) seconds the best you’ve ever guarded.”

Beilein focused on the structured nature of Michigan State’s offense and the challenges that poses for the defense. The Spartans have terrific shooters and screeners and run some of the best set-plays in the Big Ten.

“This team has a regiment of they run their stuff really really well,” Beilein explained. “It’s not Princeton-like, but you have to take that approach to preparing for it because, (every possession) here’s the play, here’s the secondary play.”

Though there are plenty of games remaining on the schedule, this is the only matchup with Michigan State on the schedule and there are few things that can galvanize a season more quickly than a win over the Spartans. Under John Beilein, Michigan has never failed to make the NCAA tournament when it beats the Spartans and the Wolverines are 6-4 against Michigan State in NCAA tournament seasons.

The Wolverines left plenty to be desired on Tuesday, in arguably their most disappointing performance of the season, but have a chance to redefine their season with a win over their in-state rivals.

With everything on the line on Saturday in a nationally televised face-off with the Spartans, junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. — the lone in-state scholarship player on the roster — reiterated that there won’t be any extra motivation required.

“No one needs to be hyped up for this game tomorrow, pregame speeches, none of that is going to help,” said Walton, who is looking for more than his seven points against the Hoosiers. “The intensity, when the ball tips up, you’re going to be able to feel the intensity.”

  • bobohle

    I hope Simon’s sources are correct. That would be awesome. Even if for 10-15 minutes.

  • Wayman Britt

    Tom Izzo’s Game Plan for UM
    1. During the first 7 minutes, bang, beat and board agressively because if you bump UM early they will play timid the rest of the game.
    2. Over play and deny any pass to Duncan. Stay right in his jock, when he is on the perimeter, just like MSU did to Nik a couple of years ago.
    3. Early in the 1st half dump the ball down in the paint and considently go at Donnal. Guards drive right at Donnal. Make him pick up two early fouls. UM’s subs at center are not yet ready to play in the Big Ten, big drop off.
    4. When MSU defensively rebounds, MSU will fast break and tear down the court, Transistion. UM is slow and does not get back on defense and MSU will have easy baskets.

    • MAZS

      Are you talking about Nik’s sophomore year? Because if so, Nik absolutely dominated State the first two games–and scored 19, 26 &17 points, respectively, in the three games–hitting 11 for 16 from 3.

  • rlcBlue

    According to KenPom, in the last five games Sparty’s been playing a two big lineup (i.e. two of Costello, Davis or Schilling) for less than half the time over the last five games. Davis in particular has only gone over 20 minutes played in 3 of MSU’s 10 B1G games. I’m not sure how much time Irvin will spend defending a big.

    • Who has been playing the minutes? Are you not including Goins as a big?

      • rlcBlue

        Goins and Clark are listed at 6’6″, Bess at 6’5″. (According to KenPom’s algorithm) Costello and Goins have each played about a third of the time at the 4, with Bess, Schilling, and Clark splitting the final third.

        • I just consider Goins a big because he’s in there to play physically and attack the glass and has essentially no perimeter skill.

    • mpbear14

      Izzo will adjust