Indefensible - Michigan 79, Michigan State 70

Nik Stauskas led the Wolverines to a season sweep of Michigan State - Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan all but eliminated Michigan State's Big Ten title hopes with a convincing 79-70 win in Ann Arbor on Sunday. The Wolverines exploited a crumbling Spartan defense, putting up 1.27 points per possession, nearly matching the 1.28 they put up in the first meeting in East Lansing. It's not hard to find the key stretch in this one. MSU led by 2 at the half and 48-43 after a Gary Harris 3-pointer with 14:42 left in the game. Michigan went on a 21-4 run that the Spartans were never able to recover from. Michigan's lead was as large as 12 before a meaningless Keith Appling layup established the final margin.

MSU vs UM Four Factors Chart

MSU's defense, already in a tailspin heading into this game, crashed and burned spectacularly. As the four factors indicate, MSU shot the lights out with an eFG% of 63.5. They have never lost a game with a shooting mark like that, as long as Ken Pomeroy has been tracking the stat. The collapse against Michigan marks the 8th game in the last 9 allowing at least 1 point per possession to the opposition. The defense has been as bad as any stretch since the 2010-11 team, which had 8 such games in a row. The absence of Branden Dawson certainly hurts, but can't completely explain this disaster.

The defensive problems showed themselves early, though they seemed less worrisome with MSU's offense looking sharp, Adreian Payne looking uncheckable and the Spartans surging to an 11-point lead. It could have been much worse for Michigan, except John Beilein had used the off week to put in a new and highly effective offensive approach for the Wolverines.

Michigan's first 8 points were off of plays like this (or the resulting free-throws) and it enabled them to limit MSU to a 22-11 advantage after the first 10 minutes. Then they went on a run of their own, cutting it to two at halftime on a Caris LeVert three as time expired.

LeVert was the hero of the first half, scoring 14 of his 23 points in the Wolverines' big run. Nik Stauskas was the hero of the second half, when he scored 21 of his game-high 25 points, including 5 shots in a row when Michigan took over the game. Stauskas took advantage of defensive mismatches, driving on Gary Harris and shooting over Keith Appling, looking every bit the NBA prospect he hasn't been since, well, the last time these two teams met in January.

Turnovers were the other big story, as both of Michigan's runs were fueled by Spartan miscues with the ball. MSU's turnover percentage of 21% was one of their worst marks of the year and the always-stingy Wolverines dipped into ridiculous levels of ball security in posting a mark that was twice as good as any other game they played this year and not bettered since January 30, 2012.

Player Notes

  • Adreian Payne finished with 12 points and a feeling that somehow he should have been able to do more. Michigan had no one who could do anything but foul Payne, and he got both Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford into foul trouble. Unfortunately Payne missed 6 foul shots and only took 9 shots from the field in a game where he could have been the difference.
  • Gary Harris led the team with 21 points but took 17 shots to get there and was responsible for 3 of the Spartans' 13 turnovers.
  • Keith Appling was, unfortunately, a liability. He was noticably unwilling to shoot and his 6 points all came with less than 1:40 left and the game already decided. Stauskas continually shot over him on the perimeter and he only managed 2 assists in his 25 minutes. At this point, until his offense, or his confidence in it, comes back, the team looks better with Travis Trice at the helm.
  • Denzel Valentine was the early star, hitting 3 threes and making some spectacular passes. He disappeared in the second half, taking only 2 shots and committing a couple of ugly turnovers. He did finish with 8 rebounds.

With the regular season title likely out of reach (a tie is possible if UM loses at least one of four games they will be heavily favored in and MSU wins out against a much tougher slate) MSU is, I suppose in full March mode. Branden Dawson is expected back against Illinois and, for once, the Big Ten tournament looks like it could be important this year. MSU will need it not only to improve their seeding for the Big Dance, but to get in as many games as possible with a fully healthy team playing together.

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