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The magic number for MSU against Michigan

When Michigan State plays Michigan this weekend, the most important detail may be who can score 70 points.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

In almost every college basketball matchup there seems to be a game-within-the-game. A seemingly obscure stat that tends to predict the success or failure of a team. This Sunday, when the Michigan State Spartans travel to Ann Arbor for their first game of the season against the Michigan Wolverines, it’s all about the number 70.

Scoring may be coming easier than ever at the NBA, but in the Big Ten, reaching the 70 point mark is anything but a given. For both the Spartans and the Wolverines, 70 points is the key to winning and losing.

Michigan State is at its best when it can turn defense into offense. Creating a turnover or grabbing a rebound and finding the outlet, leading to a sprint out, has helped the Spartans become the No. 10 ranked team in the country. It may seem counterintuitive, but the most important aspect of that equation is getting the defensive stop. Despite what has been at times a high-flying offense, it’s been the Michigan State defense that has been the x-factor in getting a win.

Of the 27 games played so far this season, MSU is 19-0 when holding its opponent below the 70-point mark. Conversely, the Spartans are 3-5 when allowing 70 or more, with two of the wins coming on nights when MSU scored over 100.

This may not sound crazy, there have been small sample-size “rules” about a team’s success when scoring roughly 70-points for the last few years. However, this is mostly thought of during the NCAA Tournament, when each basket is harder to come by.

More importantly, the 70-point designation has played just as big a role in Michigan’s season. But not nearly in the same way.

During the last 10 games, stretching over more than a month of basketball, the Wolverine’s have scored 70 points just once, coming in a win over Rutgers. On a larger scale, Michigan is averaging just 70.4 points-per-game on the season. The stingy Michigan defense has allowed 70 points just three times on the year – twice during that same 10 game stretch, both resulting in losses.

Sunday’s game may not be pretty. In fact, it would be quite a surprise if it was. But the race to 70 points is on. Whoever gets there will likely be in control of the Big Ten for the remaining two weeks.