It seems like just yesterday that these two teams played and, really, that’s not much of a stretch. Tonight, the Spartans and Wolverines will square off for the second time in less than two weeks, this time in Ann Arbor.
Will the Spartans sweep the series or will Jon Beilein’s squad pull even?
- Record: 14-9 (4-6 B1G / 12-3 Home)
- Best Win: vs SMU* (RPI: 25), 76-54
- Worst Loss: @ Iowa (RPI: 100), 83-86
Since Last Time
- 2/4 — vs Ohio State, L 66-70
Entering the last meeting, the Spartans were the reeling team in need of a win. This time, it’s the Wolverines who need to snap out of a funk. UM only played once since January 29th, a four-point home loss to their other archrival, Ohio State.
For the second straight contest, it was basically Derrick Walton Jr. against the world. The senior followed up his 24-point, 9-rebound, 5-assist game against MSU with a 25-point, 10-rebound, 3-assist effort against the Buckeyes. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t enough either time.
Also for the second straight game, the team struggled as a whole from beyond the arc. Walton did go 6-of-9 (nice) but the rest of the team shot a combined 7-for-26. And, finally, for the second straight game, Zak Irvin was ice cold, scoring only five points on 2-of-10 shooting.
As with most Beilein teams, when the shots are falling they are tough to beat, but as of late, that is far from the case.
Wolvies To Know
There are plenty of Wolverines who need to turn things around in a hurry, but we are going to concentrate on the lead dog — Zak Irvin (yeah, we talked about him last time. Sue me). Irvin has been prone to long slumps (see: his entire junior season) but he is in the midst of a very bad one right now.
In his last four games, he’s averaging 8.0 points, 2.75 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game while shooting 29% from the field (12/41) and 23.5% (4/17) from outside. This coming from the team’s at-the-time leading scorer and best shot creator. Woof.
Now, between Michigan State’s lackluster perimeter defense and his desire to not go out with thud against an in-state rival, Irvin’s got a great opportunity to bounce back, but these opportunities are precious few are far between.
Given their middle-of-the-road strength of schedule (50), low RPI (79) and lack of signature wins (an early season W over SMU and blowout of injury-riddled IU are at the top), Michigan is currently on the wrong side of the bubble. If he doesn’t figure things out soon, they’ll be gone, and it will be a sad Selection Sunday .
How Does MSU Match Up
The most surprising thing about the last time these two teams met was how easily Michigan State scored down low.
Nick Ward and Miles Bridges were able to overcome the wingspan advantage of the Michigan bigs, DJ Wilson and Moritz Wagner, and bully them in the paint, leading to a lot of easy buckets (they shot 54% on non-three-pointers as a team). That opened up a lot decent looks on the perimeter and guys like Matt McQuaid (if you can believe it) were able to cash in.
MSU still lost the overall rebounding battle, 33-32, including a troublesome 14-8 offensive board disparity, but went relatively unaffected by the Wolverines frontcourt size advantage.
The challenge? Do it again. Wilson and Wagner, especially, had to get an earful after getting smoked on the boards, 42-24, in their loss to Ohio State and are not likely to repeat those performances.
Just like on January 29th, these teams are headed in different directions. This time, however, the roles are reversed.
Michigan is in the midst of a two-game losing streak and their backs are getting closer and closer to the wall. Michigan State, on the other hand, is starting to display the consistency they’ve chased all year.
The biggest factor is the one we have talked about all year; the emergence of Cassius Winston. Having a lead guard who can do it all offensively — facilitate, run the fast break, shoot — and not be a liability on defense completely changes the dynamic of this team.
Michigan is going to play angry. They’ve lost their last two games to the two schools they despise most and certainly do not want to see that streak reach three, especially on their home floor.
Tom Izzo has his team playing well and they’re coming off a confident road win against Nebraska — yes, it’s Nebraska but they’ve beaten Purdue, Maryland and a healthy Indiana this year — a game in which they took a few punches and delivered them right back.
They’re going to take some punches tonight as well. I expect Irvin to come back to life, and think Wilson has a much better game this time around. If Walton and Duncan Robinson start hitting three’s, things could get very dicey for MSU, but I’m not buying it yet.
Ward and Bridges have their way in the paint again and MSU squeezes out a close one.