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Different, but the same: The MSU-UM basketball rivalry

Don't look a gift-troll in the mouth...


Yeah, yeah, yeah, "pride comes before the fall" and all that, whatever. Opportunities to gloat over a completely annihilated sports rival like this only come once in a lifetime every couple years or so, apparently. If this article blows up in my face in four years after Michigan rips off like, a 7-1 winning streak, and it gets emailed to me by Michigan fans under the subject line, 'Hey stupid, look at how stupid you were' well, we all make mistakes. Part of the 'enjoy this' factor of a blowout win like that, for me, is getting to rub the faces of UM fans with this word-cactus. So prickly.

I was told it would be different this time.

In Michigan, it's the trendy thing recently to be like, "Both school's football and basketball teams are on pretty equal footing. We can all admit that, right?" It's the nice thing, the bipartisan thing. But not, it seems, the true thing. Nope. Not right now.

The more things change...

The weird thing about this win was ultimately how little it surprised me as it was happening.

Ok, so if you'd told me before the game that MSU would win by 20+, I would've given you a pitying look, or maybe assumed you had some inside information that Trey Burke's hand had fallen off. But when the game started being played, it was shockingly similar to earlier MSU-UM games I'd watched. Sure, at first, when MSU got the lead up to 26-15 with a little over 6 minutes left in the first half, I was still taken aback at how well things were going. And you could chalk it up to a Michigan cold spell initially. But by the time the half rolled around, and MSU was up 38-24, it was pretty clear Michigan was in deep trouble. I allowed that maybe Michigan could get back into it with a fast second half start, like their game at OSU. Then the first TV timeout hit at 16 minutes left, Michigan State was up 48-29 and it was lights out. Sure, it was technically possible Michigan could come back, but come on. The last fifteen minutes were a gleeful exercise in just how wide the final margin was going to be.

So depending on your individual confidence level, the blowout realization point came somewhere between like 35%-60% of the way through the game. Why do I think I had a lack of a 'Holy crap, we're really doing this!' reaction as the second half ticked away, something Spartan fans know well from games against OSU, Louisville, and Wisconsin, among others? Wolverines were playing a familiar tune, that's all.

All the hallmarks of double digit wins past were there.

Bad/Uninterested defense

How many times did Nik Stauskas lose Gary Harris behind a screen and let him shoot an open three? Every time. How many times did Nix get the ball and either easily spin around McGary for the bucket (6-9 for 14 points) or kick the ball out when double teamed (3 assists)? Every time. Dawson got to the rim against Robinson III and Hardaway whenever he wanted, Appling ravaged Albrecht on both ends of the court. Bielfeldt and Levert might as well have been invisible.

MSU got to the rim at a good frequency (on 16/62 attempts, about 26%) and converted 14 of those attempts for a fantastic 87.5% FG% on attempts at the basket. Even the switch to the two big lineup from Beilein didn't help protect the basket.

Getting bullied inside

Look, I know Morgan wasn't healthy, and it's possible he makes all the difference in the world, but the Wolverines got absolutely punked inside. 1 Block, 14 offensive rebounds given up (MSU had 44% OReb rate), and a Michigan State offense that tore UM to bits from the inside-out (9 assists from the MSU front court, to go along with their 43 points). It was type of beatdown I was led to believe wouldn't happen against these new look high-flying, tough-minded, grit-gritting Wolverines. Welp.

A toothless bench

Here's a sentence you'll never hear this year, "Oh shit, we're in trouble, Max Bielfeldt and Spike Albrecht are checking into the game!" Alright, maybe you'll hear that if you're near a group of Michigan fans, but you get what I'm saying.

Looking past the garbage time contributions of Beilein's "We Surrender" warriors, the fivesome of Morgan, Horford, Bielfeldt, Albrecht, and Lavert netted Michigan a combined: 10 pts (4-9 FG, 1-3 FT), 8 rebounds (1 offensive), 1 steal, 1 block, 0 assists, 5 turnovers in 49 combined minutes of floor time.

The good news for Michigan is that most of those five are freshmen, meaning they'll likely be around for a couple more years. The bad news for Michigan is that most of those five are freshmen, meaning they'll likely be around for a couple more years.

Settling for jump shots, then not hitting them

By my quick count, UM got to the rim on only 11 out of their 52 shots (21%). They converted these 64% (7/11) of these shots, but apparently preferred to take and miss many, many, jump shots instead. 79% of their attempts were jump shots, they made 34% of these shots. Classic Beilein ball.

Getting 'Breslin shook'

At some point in the game, nearly every UM team gets messed up by the crowd and the moment, is diagnosed with 'Breslin shook', gives up a big MSU run, and that's that. But you'd expect (hope?) that a top 5 team 2/3s of the way through its conference schedule, who'd already traveled to The Barn, both Assembly Halls, and whatever OSU is calling their arena these days, would be more up for the occasion.

Pick your favorite moment: McGary throwing kick-out passes from the post directly into the hands of Brandon Dawson (or out of bounds), the inability of UM to adjust to the tight, high, pressure of MSU's backcourt, the Trey Burke undercut-made basket-charge sequence, Hardaway rising and firing jump shots all the way to oblivion (again), they all work.

Once you got to the point where you could look past the #4 next to Michigan's name and recognize the familiar patterns that led to them losing big at the Breslin in the past, it was academic. Michigan was deadmeat because they played the way Michigan has always played when they previously became non-living muscle tissue, regardless of their resume coming into the game.

It was supposed to be different, but it looked oh so the same, and if you're wondering why Michigan fans are especially mopey, well... that. They know it. Imagine how you'd feel if MSU football had been beaten by five touchdowns in Ann Arbor in 2010.

Coping Mechanisms

Michigan fans will probably be able to hand-wave this away as a freak occurrence, because, well, what's the other option? As far as I can see, they're running with:

We're really young: This seems to be the clubhouse leader. Never mind that MSU is only about 4 months older on average. And never mind that Burke (And Hardaway? And GRIII? And McGary?) bolting for the NBA will make them basically as young next year. The belief that Michigan has a reachable ceiling past a #1 ranking and a #2 KenPom rank at one point, will be the hope that warms UM fans as they face losing somewhere between 'a lot' and 'a whole damn lot' of their offensive production at the end of the year. Or maybe they'll luck out and all their potential NBA talent will return for another year like Taylor Lewan did, and LOLOLOLOL.

We were tired, man: Four games in eleven days is rough, no doubt. And when the first three games were decided by single digits, with two going to overtime, of course there was going to be some fatigue. Although, MSU was playing their 3rd game in 7 days, had been suffering many more aches and injuries, and earlier in the year finished off their own 'four games in eleven days' streak not by collapsing in embarrassing fashion, but by fighting like absolute bastards in a close road loss vs Indiana. But, you know, tired.

Shit happens, UM just had a bad game: Fun fact: after Michigan stopped paying its best players in, let's say, oh, 1999, MSU won 14 MSU-UM games by double digits, including scores of 20, 51, 27, 21, 27, 17, 15, 19, 15, 15, 16, and 23 points. Shit does happen, and to Michigan basketball, it happens all the time.

There's no shame in catching a massive college basketball beat down once in a while. in 2010-2011, MSU got blown out by 20+ like, all the time. And UNC has been an obvious MSU nightmare for years now. But I don't know, once you take your twelfth 15+ point beatdown in about 13 years from the same team, and once your current coach just lost his fifth rivalry game by 10+ in 6 years, it's kinda tough not to make sweeping statements about the non-competitiveness of a rivalry. The impetus to a post like this is less the single, big, UM loss and more the repeated nature of said loss.

Some narrowly selected number of games to make the rivalry look more competitive than it's actually been: "3-2 in the last five!" "2-2 in the last four!" "3-3 in the last six!" "3-5 in the-, I mean, 0-2 in the last- I mean, 6-12 in the last- fuck, nevermind."

Beilein fielded some bad teams in 2007 and 2008, but was at least lucky enough to only play MSU twice total in those two years. And credit where credit is due, in 2011, when Izzo rolled out his worst team since 96-97, Beilein quickly picked up two wins. Can't say he hasn't made the most of his opportunities.

If you cherry pick the right number of games, it looks like Beilein turned the corner in the rivalry. If you look at the bigger picture...

Johnny Amaker

Tommy Amaker won 108 of his 192 games as the head coach of Michigan. John Beilein has won 112 of his 193 games as the head coach of Michigan.

That's a fun stat, but is also a bit tongue-in-cheek. After all, you have to consider the context with a stat like that. And Amaker took over right as the program was dealing with painful NCAA sanctions and tourney bans, while Beilein, though he had to deal with the last year of scholarship reductions in 2007, was handed a team coming off back-to-back 20 win seasons. Context.

Amaker holds the slight non-conference edge at 65-31, while Beilein is at 61-30. But Beilein gets the edge in Big Ten play, whereas Amaker went 43-53, Beilein has helmed the Wolverines to a very impressive .500 winning percentage at 51-51.

Of course, Beilein, at one point owner of an undeniable 3 game winning streak over MSU probably has the best of the heads up over his predecessor, right?


Resume v MSU
Coach Amaker Beilein
Wins 3 3
Losses 7 6
Winning Percentage 30.00% 33.33%
Average Margin of victory in UM wins 6 4
Average Margin of defeat in UM losses 14.7 12.8

like, barely. I'd would just say that Beilein better try real, real, hard to protect that home court in three weeks, or I might spend way too much time photo-shopping him into turtleneck shirts and blazers.

That (other) gap

I won't even go back as far as I could in an effort to keep it from getting too lopsided, we'll just stick with the time that Beilein has been at Michigan. Let's be quick about this:

Since 2007
Coach Izzo Beilein
Big Ten Titles 3 1
Conference Tourney Titles 1 0
NCAA wins 13 2
NCAA losses 5 3
Winning percentage 72.22% 40.00%
Sweet Sixteens 4 0
Elite Eights 2 0
Final Fours 2 0
National Title Game 1 0
Championships 0 0

Yo man, that is like, a big gap, that is definitely there, and is likely going to be there until Izzo retires, unless Beilein is about to have a couple of crazy tourney runs, which, refer back to the table above.


Michigan has a good team right now (maybe a really good team), and they've still got a good shot at winning another Big Ten title this year (though they better not drop any more games, or that shot rapidly decreases) before earning a high NCAA tournament seed. But, just by the numbers, do these programs look like they're on very equal footing? Or is closer to the same old, same old, just with a more talented MSU team still consistently out-performing a more talented UM team? UM got better, but frankly, so did MSU, and it shows. In this rivalry, Michigan is who they've been for 15-20 years now, a team capable of winning 50%-60% of their games vs MSU in Ann Arbor, and a team who loses, badly, 80%-90% of their games in East Lansing.

If you're a UM fan after that game, I don't know, have patience and hope. Enjoy the last month and a half or so of Trey Burke, he's a hell of a player. Maybe you guys can beat MSU by 20+ in Ann Arbor. Maybe you don't choke away your Big Ten title shot this year. Maybe after the 2014 season, if you've won three straight in the rivalry to claw Beilein up to .500, and a Big Ten Title or two, maybe an Elite Eight, or a Final Four (or a Sweet Sixteen), we can revisit the subject. Maybe. But man, not today.

And well, that's the optimistic version. Here's the pessimistic version:

Beilein can't win recruiting battles vs the heavyweights of the conference. Only one player in Michigan's three man 2013 class has an offer from any of Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana, or Wisconsin (Zak Irvin, with just the Indiana offer), none of his five 2012 recruits had a single offer from those four programs. Three out of the four players in MSU's 2012 class alone had Michigan offers, and the guy who didn't was Gary Harris. Izzo, Matta, and Crean all take basically whoever they want with a Michigan offer, and Bo keeps doing his Bo thing better than Beilein ever could. And UM's recent history of 'coaching 'em up' with second choice guys isn't as good as you'd think.

To further compound that issue, Beilein, who is by all accounts a very nice man, is also probably only 6th best coach in the conference (behind those four, and then Painter) and for all his offensive acumen, his best KenPom defensive unit is still just the 27th ranked team he inherited in 2007. Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Ohio State are as strong as they ever were, and with the rise of Indiana, once Michigan loses the NPOY candidate it managed to nab from Penn State, it's probably back to the salt mines for the Wolverines.

Who knows about the future, but the present is the present and the past is the past. I know a lot of Michigan fans want it to be one way. And a lot of media types, and neutrals, and even some MSU fans want it to be one way...

But it's the other way.