Dylan and I didn't get to our annual chat of brotherly love the first time these two teams played. But the rematch is even bigger and more brotherly, so here we are. My responses to his questions are up over at his place.
1. Nik Stauskas has been much less explosive of late, averaging just 10 points per game over the last 5 games. What have defenses been doing differently against him, and how do you think he (or the team as a whole) might adjust to that going forward?
Indiana received a lot of credit for its defensive strategy, but it was very similar to what Michigan State did. The Hoosiers glued Yogi Ferrell to Stauskas and denied him the ball. The big wrinkle was that Indiana switched every ball screen and used Will Sheehey as a five man to make that strategy work.
I don't expect Michigan State to switch every ball screen, but Gary Harris was terrific in denying Stauskas the ball in the first meeting. The majority of Stauskas's made field goals came in unsettled situations or with Harris on the bench.
Stauskas has missed some shots he can make lately, probably rushing a bit he's had fewer opportunities, but the shots will start falling. The bigger concern for Michigan might be that teams have taken away his ability to distribute with the ball screen. He averaged 4.7 assists per game in Michigan's first seven Big Ten games and just 2.3 assists per game in the last six (and that's with an 8 assist performance against Nebraska). Stauskas has a 14:19 assist to turnover ratio in the last six games compared to 29:10 in the first seven games. Those are the numbers that are most concerning and are the statistic to watch going forward.
2. Derrick Walton was outstanding against MSU in East Lansing, with 19 points and 4 assists vs. just 1 turnover. What's your take on how he's developed over the first 25 games of his college career?
Walton struggled to find his role early on this season, but he's had some huge performances during Big Ten play. He had the game winning layup at Nebraska and was critical in road wins at Michigan State and Ohio State. He's developed at his own pace and while he's not close to being Trey Burke, he's playing better than most would imagine for a freshman point guard.
The key for Walton going forward is to continue to improve his half court distribution. He's slowly but surely finding the roll man more often on the pick-and-roll, but he's still most effective shooting threes from the right wing and attacking the bucket.
3. Michigan has struggled on defense in conference play, particularly on the inside (8th in defensive rebounding percentage, 12th in 2-point FG% and block%). With Adreian Payne back in the MSU lineup, how do you think they try to defend him?
It's a tough situation for Michigan because the Wolverines just aren't good defensively. Michigan State scored 1.20 points per possession in the first meeting - and that was without Payne. If you double Payne, you open yourself up to the 3-point shot and that's not really a good strategy based on the MSU shooting performance on Thursday night.
Payne will probably get his (just look at what Frank Kamsinky did), but the key will be making him work for every bucket and doing a good job on the defensive glass. You can't give Payne wide open pick-and-pop threes and you can't give Michigan State second chances.
4. Michigan's season has been a little strange in terms of how the wins and losses have played out: four losses in the first 10 games, followed by 10 straight wins, followed by three losses in the last 5 games. Clearly, the team's immediate goal is to win the Big Ten title. But where would you draw the line at this point in terms of how far the team can reasonably be expected to advance in the NCAA tournament?
The Big Ten schedule can make a team look inconsistent in a hurry. Michigan lost three out of five games because it played road games at Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State in the span of 14 days and it started out the season very hot because the schedule was so comfortable early on in conference play.
Michigan has some really great road wins this season - at Michigan State, at Wisconsin, at Ohio State - and when things are clicking is capable of beating anyone. That being said, the defense is a concern. Michigan wasn't a good defense team last season, but is even worse this year.
Last year Michigan was playing probably its worst basketball in the two or three weeks leading up to the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines lost at Penn State, choked away the Big Ten Championship on their home floor and played a forgettable two games at the Big Ten Tournament. So the morale of the story is that you can never quite tell, this is certainly a team capable of making the second weekend of the tournament and depending on matchups anything can happen from there.
5. Just for fun: Give me your best lineup of five Michigan basketball players from the post-Fab-Five era. (Note that LaVell Blanchard is my all-time favorite Wolverine, so exclude him at your own peril.)
Let's stick to the 2000's and I'll go with something like this:
Jamal Crawford only played a few games in Ann Arbor so he can serve as the sixth man, something he does quite well in the NBA. [Outrageous! #TeamLaVell -Ed.]
6. What do you see as the biggest key for each team on Sunday? Care to hazard a game prediction?
I hate to be a cop out but I agree with your keys: transition play and defensive rebounding. Michigan is terrible in transition defense, but when the offense struggles it can be revived by a few transition baskets. The Wolverines are best when they are getting clean defensive rebounds and pushing the tempo. If Michigan can do that, it should be in good shape. Whichever team can score in transition, but control the game to limit the opposition's transition offense will have the upper hand.
The addition of Adreian Payne is worrisome because he has the ability to change the complexion of the rebounding battle, and in turn, the entire game. If Michigan is able to control the defensive glass as it did in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines should be in good shape.
I don't have a prediction, but at home this is a game that Michigan needs to win because it has let too many winnable marquee games slip away at Crisler including losses to Arizona and Wisconsin.