clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michigan Is The Real “Little Brother”

This isn’t even a debate. The statistics speak for themselves. Since it is “Rivalry Week” we just want to remind you why that is.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 17 Big Ten Conference Tournament - Michigan State v Michigan Photo by Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When it comes to the Great Lakes State, there is only one school that reigns supreme as the “Big Brother” in college basketball, and that school is the Michigan State Spartans. This is not a debate, nor is it me arguing a case, this is simply the facts of the matter. Since this is “Rivalry Week” here at SB Nation, I thought it would be fun to remind everyone why this happens to be the case.

National Championships and Final Fours

2>1 and 10>6

Math is simple enough on this. Michigan State has two national championships, in 1979 and again in 2000. Michigan has one national championship in 1989. Even their record in the title game is lopsided as Michigan is 1-4 (I’m being generous and not including your vacated 1-6 record), and MSU is 2-1.

Michigan has been to six Final Fours, while Michigan State has been to 10. Even in the odd distinction the rivals have of being the only two schools to ever have both their basketball and hockey teams make the Final Four in the same season, MSU has achieved that feat twice to Michigan’s one.

All Time NCAA Tournament Records


The Spartans have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 33 times, including an active streak of the past 22 tournaments, fourth-longest and third-longest active streak. The Michigan Wolverines have made it merely 25 times, the longest streak of which was six straight.

What about making it count on those visits? MSU has advanced to the Sweet 16 20 times. The little brother Wolverines have made it just 14. As for the Elite 8, it is still MSU with a 14-12 appearance advantage over Michigan. Even their overall winning percentages favor big brother MSU (though I admit by the narrowest of margins, despite two clear-cut losses being unfairly officiated against MSU) as they have won 68.8-percent of their 103 NCAA tournament games, while little brother Michigan has won just 68.4-percent of their 92 NCAA games.

Conference Titles

16>9 and 6>2

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

Since Michigan State joined the Big Ten, little brother has struggled to keep up in the banner race. The Spartans have won 16 Big Ten conference championships, good for sixth best despite only competing in the conference since 1953. Michigan has only won nine conference titles in that era.

The Spartans have also had impressive runs of dominance in the conference, winning two conference titles in a row twice, an active three-title streak right now, and a four-title streak as well. Michigan only has a three-peat and a two-peat during that same time frame.

Here is where little brother might suddenly google Wikipedia records and say “Hey, wait a minute, Kevin!” However, this is where I scoff and point out even if we spot you the years we were an independent, you still trail us in conference title count! So don’t even @ me about it.

Moving on to conference tournament titles, Michigan State owns the Big Ten in this regard with a conference best six titles. The next best is that school down south little brother does not want to be reminded of with four tournament titles, even after they had to vacate another. Michigan only has two tournament titles. Little brother might find some consolation in being the tournament runner-up twice, whereas big brother MSU was only runner-up once. One of those losses Michigan suffered was to big brother, though (their third of the season in fact).

AP Poll

While Michigan has been ranked in the preseason more times (27 to 25), the Spartans have the important advantage of finishing the season ranked 25 times to Michigan’s 22. As for during the season? Sparty has a commanding lead having spent 468 total weeks ranked in the AP compared to little brother’s 417 total weeks.


68-54, MSU Leads

Since Michigan State joined the Big Ten conference (they started play in basketball during the 1950-1951 season, whereas football took until 1953), the Spartans have beat their little brother by the wide margin of 68-54. Even when both teams are ranked in the AP Poll, MSU has a 13-5 record advantage, including nine wins as the lower ranked team to Michigan’s four.

Once again, here is where a whiny Wal-Mart Wolverine will make an appearance to dispute the fact Michigan owns the overall series record 94-85. Bravo, you had the winning record of beating an independent during the 41 seasons prior to them getting into the conference you tried your hardest to keep them out of. Winning during those years is something you were supposed to do. The fact MSU got 17 wins during that span is embarrassing for you, and you should be concerned about the fact they are so close on your heels in the overall series. As for the Big Ten era, Sparty is your big brother and owns the lead 68-54. Accept it, little bro.

Individual Accolades

Michigan State v Oklahoma Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Spartans have had four national players of the year (Denzel Valentine, Draymond Green, Shawn Respert, and Scott Skiles), Michigan has had two (Cazzie Russell and Trey Burke). The two areas where Michigan ranks higher is in Consensus All-Americans and NBA draft picks. The Wolverines have had 14 separate players earn All-American honors at least once, while the Spartans have only had 12 (this statistic is per Sports-Reference).

Meanwhile, Michigan has had 71 players drafted into the NBA (27 first-rounders), while the Spartans have had 63 (21 first-rounders). I am just going to come out and say the obvious, Ervin “Magic” Johnson tips the scale in favor of MSU in this distinction, anyways.

Back in the college ranks, Michigan State has featured the most Big Ten Player of the Year honorees of any Big Ten school with nine (10 total times). It is also one of only two programs (the other being Ohio State) to have a player win it twice (Mateen Cleaves). The winners for the Spartans include Scott Skiles, Shawn Respert, Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green, Denzel Valentine, and Cassius Winston. Michigan meanwhile has had a player win it five times, including Roy Tarpley, Gary Grant, Glen Rice, Trey Burke, and Nik Stauskas.

As for Big Ten Coach of the Year, the Spartans have had a coach selected five times, twice for Jud Heathcote and three times for Tom Izzo. Michigan has only had four selections, including Johnny Orr twice, Bill Frieder, and John Beilein. Plus, Izzo is the reigning Coach of the Decade.

That’s all she wrote, folks. The Michigan Wolverines are clearly the little brother of this rivalry to in-state rival the Michigan State Spartans. MSU is clearly superior in every statistical category. Am I actually going to go around calling you “little brother” from now on though? No, because that is incredibly stupid. I am not Mike Hart or Devin Bush. I am not actually advocating Spartan fans go around calling Michigan “little brother” in basketball here. I am, however, trying to draw your attention to the fact that in basketball, MSU is hands down the superior program in the state and there is truly no legitimate debate to be had on that fact. Case closed, and enjoy the rest of your “rivalry week” here at SB Nation.