The Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team heads to the Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on the the Michigan Wolverines on Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time (FS1). This is of course the rescheduled date between the two programs after the game originally scheduled for Jan. 8 was postponed.
Let’s preview the matchup.
Michigan State (19-9, 10-7): No. 34 (Kenpom)
1 - A.J. Hoggard (6’4” So.), Tyson Walker (6’0” Jr.)
2 - Max Christie (6’6” Fr.), Jaden Akins (6’4” Fr.)
3 - Gabe Brown (6’8” Sr.), Pierre Brooks II (6’6” Fr.)
4 - Malik Hall (6’7” Jr.), Joey Hauser (6’9” Sr.)
5 - Julius Marble (6’9” Jr.), Marcus Bingham Jr. (7’0” Sr.)
The Spartans may very well have saved their season against Purdue this past weekend. Staring down the barrel of a three-game losing streak, with a brutal closing stretch to come, Michigan State needed to get back to winning before heading into the conference tournament. That one felt like a season changing win, and Michigan State earned it. The victory over the Boilermakers might be the beginning of a run, but Michigan is looking to close its season on a high note, and secured a NCAA Tournament bid.
With three games in six days to close the season, Tom Izzo’s Spartans will have to summon all kinds of moxie, toughness and shot-making to pull out wins against their bitterest rival in the Wolverines, the rock-solid Buckeyes and the dangerous Terrapins. Win two or three of these games and momentum will really start to build as postseason play approaches. This roller coaster keeps on chugging, doesn’t it?
Speaking of roller coasters, Julius Marble’s season has been one wild ride: after starting the season on a terrific roll on both sides of the ball, Marble had a long dip in form through the middle of the season before emerging in the last six games or so as a dominant contributor on both ends. His play has solidified the front-court, and eased the pressure on Marcus Bingham Jr., whose own renaissance of sorts is slowly building steam, and from Malik Hall, whose recent quiet performances indicate the extent to which opposing defenses are focusing on him in their game plans.
Against Purdue, Marble drew offensive fouls, finished his limited opportunities, rebounded, defended and just competed hard. He typified the Spartan performance and his solid play anchored a terrific front-court performance. His excellence has paired beautifully with the continued strong outings from Tom Izzo’s two-headed monster at point guard. A.J. Hoggard and Tyson Walker have really sorted themselves out, and the one-two punch both within that playing group and between the point guards and the front-court really paid dividends against the No. 4 team in the nation, and their stellar play gave wings Gabe Brown and Max Christie a bit of “slack” that allowed them to play free and confident basketball.
In short, this team is beginning to show what it can become. In the home tilt against the Wolverines, MSU fans got another glimpse of the Spartans’ potential, and Izzo and crew will be looking to replicate their earlier victory against a tougher opponent than they faced last time, and in a tougher venue.
Michigan (15-12, 9-8): No. 38 (Kenpom)
1 - DeVante’ Jones (6’1” Sr.), Frankie Collins (6’1” Fr.)
2 - Eli Brooks (6’1” Sr.), Kobe Bufkin (6’4” Fr.)
3 - Caleb Houstan (6’8” Fr.)
4 - Moussa Diabate (6’11” Fr.), Terrance Williams (6’7” So.), Brandon Johns Jr. (6’8” Sr.)
5 - Hunter Dickinson (7’1” So.), Jaron Faulds (6’10” Sr.)
Since losing to the Spartans in late January, Michigan has been up-and-down in its performance. What has not been inconsistent is the flash of potential that Moussa Diabate has shown over the last month or so of the season. At times, and particularly against Iowa in Michigan’s victory over a team that boat-raced the Spartans, Diabate looked like a bona fide NBA player. When he plays confident, controlled, assertive basketball, then Michigan looks like something the Wolverines have not been for much of the year: a good team.
Despite flashes from Diabate and Caleb Houstan, this team still revolves around Hunter Dickinson in the post and Eli Brooks on the perimeter. Those two guys stir the drink, but as Tom Izzo has shown in the first matchup versus Michigan and against the Boilermakers, he is willing to allow dominant big men to grind out their points while denying the “others” easy looks.
When Brooks, Diabate, Houstan and DeVante’ Jones are merely “OK,” this team struggles. Expect Dickinson to get his, but you can also expect the Wolverines to concede a big game from at least one Spartan in this one — they habitually let at least one opposing player go off every game, largely due to defensive breakdowns from their young players and their simply mediocre bench unit.
Stay attached to Brooks, Houstan and Jones, make Diabate hit shots, and make Dickinson work for his 20 or so points. Joey Hauser, Christie, Hall and Hoggard all hit double figures in the first match-up and I expect another balanced game with at least four Spartans scoring 10 points or more each.
Hall needs to find his rhythm again, and the Spartan wings must stay aggressive in getting to the paint when Dickinson gets dragged away in pick-and-roll. Hoggard and Walker should dictate tempo and keep the pace high.
Look for a fun one, and for Izzo to be beaming if he surpasses Bob Knight for all-time wins at a Big Ten school. Obviously, Juwan Howard won’t be on Michigan’s sideline, as he continues to serve his suspension. This is going to be a high-intensity first half and a balanced demonstration of superiority.