It’s the first bigtime matchup between the in-state rivals since the tunnel debacle at Michigan Stadium. The two basketball squads are both coming off of impressive double digit conference wins. Michigan over Penn State in Ann Arbor, and MSU by 18 against Nebraska.
Tom Izzo hopes “we’re the craziest, toughest, best crowd that ever was assembled in Breslin.” This comes after Michigan’s starting center, Hunter Dickinson “disassociated” himself from comments made by one of his co-hosts on their Barstool podcast comparing Izzo to Hitler. Buckle up folks, Michigan’s on the clock.
MSU’s 74-56 home win over Nebraska was legitimately surprising (to me, at least. Apologies for my eternal pessimism). Nebrasketball’s historically ugly brand looked like it may have turned a corner. They’d beaten Creighton! They took Purdue to overtime! Turns out that doesn’t matter when you walk into the Breslin Center and the Alumni Izzone’s there. Tyson Walker had a tremendous game, and Tre Holloman showed promise at point guard. There are lots of reasons to feel good about where MSU is right now. (Game recap here)
Michigan’s win over Penn State has to have made the handful of Michigan basketball fans feel good about their own team’s prospects. After an ugly loss to Central Michigan in the dark stretch between Christmas and the New Year, Michigan jumped back into conference play with a dominating 81-46 win over Maryland/ They followed that up by beating Micah Shrewsbury’s Nittany Lions by ten. Michigan had four players with double digit points, including three of their guards. As much as we may not want to admit it after the genuinely hilarious loss to the Chips, Michigan is playing well.
This all leads us to Saturday at 2:30pm. There is no reason to believe that Tom Izzo’s desire for a crazy, tough crowd won’t come to be. Tuesday’s crowd was both large and loud. Bolstered by the Alumni Izzone and dominance on the scoreboard, MSU had a real home court advantage against the Huskers. On Saturday? It should be on another level.
In the leadup and the aftermath of the football game, we could see that the temperature of the rivalry had risen. A lot. After the tunnel incident and Michigan’s push to give every MSU player the Marty McSorley treatment, any doubt that the venom of the nasty in-state rivalry had become toxic was eliminated.
How would this translate to other sports? Well, in the December hockey series, each team won on their home ice, and the chippy finale in Ann Arbor ended with a scrap after the final whistle. Still, it wasn’t anything more than a standard hockey fight, and the handshakes went on just minutes later. No harm, no foul.
In basketball? Well, Hunter Dickinson, the center with a tremendous future in either European basketball or professional wrestling, is making a living as the villain. A few weeks after slamming the academic abilities of every student at MSU, he laughed at a comment that said Tom Izzo is literally Hitler. Dickinson has a natural gift for playing the heel, and he can back that up on the court as an excellent Big Ten big man.
He should consider signing up for a class in the history department though, because his grasp on the twentieth century is a little weak. Even setting aside the grossness of invoking one of human history’s worst figures in the context of a basketball game, what a competitive miscalculation! Every person inside the Breslin Center will know about the comment both about Izzo, and about MSU’s academic standing. For a fanbase that needs no motivation to yell until their collective voices are hoarse against Michigan, Dickinson just gave them a lovely post-Christmas gift.
It’s a cliche to say that you can throw the records out for a rivalry game, but it’s a cliche for a reason - anything can happen. Neither of these squads are all-time greats for their respective program, but there are some fun storylines.
How will the matchup between Mady Sissoko and Hunter Dickinson go? Sissoko has yet to put together consistent performances, but he has shown flash after flash, including a respectable rebounding night against Nebraska. Dickinson will be one of the best big men MSU has faced, certainly since seeing Drew Timme and Oscar Tshibwe in the first week of the season.
Can Tyson Walker turn in another great game?
Will Tre Holloman still be the main bench option at the point, and can he shine against Michigan’s guards?
The Breslin Center should be a snake pit. The venom will be flowing. Bragging rights will be awarded, at least until February 18 when they do it all over again in Ann Arbor.