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MSU Hoops Preview: Michigan

So, are we now “in the bubble,” or, “on the right side of the bubble?” Whatever you call it, there’s still work to do!

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans take on the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor on Tuesday night at 9 pm. Let's take a look at who our Spartans will be seeing.

The Wolverines are on a four-game losing streak and it started with the overtime loss to Michigan State...

With their fourth loss in-a-row last Thursday, Michigan has now fallen to 13-12 on the season and to 6-7 in Big Ten play. The four-game losing streak began with the overtime loss to Michigan State on February 1st, and U of M has now lost five of their last six games. Though their record over the last six games is only 1 and 5, three of those Michigan losses have come in overtime to three probable tournament teams in Wisconsin, Michigan State, and then to Illinois last Thursday.

So, these depleted Wolverines, they can at least still hang with the best of the Big Ten. Who they got?

Without junior Caris LeVert, out for the remainder of the season with a foot injury, and still without starting point guard Derrick Walton Jr., also out with a foot injury (and now officially ruled out for Saturday), sophomore Zak Irvin has become the Wolverines next-man-up, go-to scoring threat.

Irvin, whose offensive game is still developing, is now averaging 13.4 ppg but his scoring average currently comes by way of inconsistent performances. In Big Ten play, Irvin has scored as many as 23 points, as he did recently against Indiana in a 70-67 loss, but Michigan is more likely to get a 10-12 point game on 35% shooting from Irvin, as without another dangerous scoring threat, opposing defenses can put their best defenders on, or focus defensively on, Irvin. Michigan State held Irvin to only 11 points on 5 of 14 from the field in their February 1st match-up.

In the 76-66 Michigan State overtime win, Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman surprised the Spartans with his best game of the season by far when Abdur-Rahkman scored 18 points on 8 of 14 from the field. Since that game in East Lansing, the 6'4" freshman guard did have an 11-point game against Iowa, and with the key injuries, Abdur-Rahkman is barely off the court now for U of M averaging over 37 minutes per game, but Abdur-Rahkman hasn't put a game together nearly as good as his performance at The Breslin.

Junior, Spike Albrecht, (aka to most Spartan fans as "Jus-tin Bei-ber" but aka to me as Michael J. Fox from Teen Wolf) scored a season-high 18 points the last time out against MSU. Albrecht has averaged 11.6 points and 6 assists per game in the three games since, and now, with his role more clearly defined in the Wolverines' mix when Walton Jr. is out, expect more specific attention to be paid to the junior guard by MSU in Tuesday night's game.

Michigan State destroyed Michigan on the boards last time to the tune of a 43-29 rebounding advantage which included 13 offensive rebounds. This Michigan team lacks size, but in East Lansing, 6'7" junior forward Max Beilfeldt stepped up to provide 9 rebounds off the bench. At 6'9", freshman forward Ricky Doyle usually starts for Coach John Beilein but the most rebounds Doyle has contributed in a game is 6. With the Michigan injuries, 6'6" freshman Aubrey Dawkins, over the last seven games, is averaging over 30 minutes played per game. Dawkins can shoot the three ball and has the ability to get hot as evidenced by four three pointers on his way to 16-point game against Iowa, and six three pointers in a 20-point game against Illinois. Though Dawkins must be watched, he provides little in the way of a rebounding presence and only averages 2 boards per game. 6'7" freshman Kameron Chatman was seeing more consistent minutes in non-conference play but since Big Ten play began his minutes have been limited. Chatman saw 11 minutes in the first game vs. Michigan State but Chatman has only been minimally productive as he's averaging only 3.5 ppg on 28% shooting.

With his two best players out, Coach Beilein's low turnover, low-possession, 1-3-1 or 2-3 zone defensive strategy has been the star, as in the five games since Walton Jr. went out, Michigan still has a win (58-44 over Nebraska), two games they got into overtime, MSU and Illinois, and a three-point loss where they had a chance to tie at the end of regulation against Indiana. With tournament hopes pretty much gone, beating Michigan State in Ann Arbor might prove to be the highlight of a difficult season for the Wolverines, so, though undermanned, no one expects Michigan to lay down against their in-state rival.

The Michigan State rotation...NOW WITH MORE TUM TUM!

Tum Tum Nairn played 36 minutes in MSU's important win over Ohio State and must redeem himself after a poor performance last time out against Michigan. Nairn played only 7 minutes in the first meeting between the teams and had two turnovers, missed a lay-up, struggled on defense against Spike Albrecht, and then found himself on the wrong end of a switch down low for an easy U of M bucket. It will be interesting to see how Nairn does coming off of his best game of the season and with Coach Beilein looking hard for those potential mis-matches.

Michigan State has not won at Crisler Center since 2010, so this game is especially important to the Spartan seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson who have never beaten Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Though many pundits throughout the state of Michigan expect a close game, I expect a big victory for MSU.

In the game against Michigan in East Lansing, the Spartans displayed some obvious nerves and as a result there was some team tentativeness that I would not expect the Spartans to play with now that:

a) They've played this depleted Michigan team and won.

b) They're coming off a big win in which they played great during crunchtime.

c) They may have found their team identity now, starting with the Northwestern game, as a defense-first and score-enough team-which, is never a bad type of team to go on the road with.

Even with Beilein's system trying to keep it close, I feel a 14-point win is in the cards.

Go Sparty!