Round 1 went to the Spartans after they went to Ann Arbor and ground out a 77-70 win over the Wolverines. Will Saturday’s game end up the same? Or will Michigan figure out a way to make the Spartans pay on senior night? The stakes couldn’t be any higher, as a share of the Big Ten regular season title is on the line when these two rivals meet on Saturday night.
How to Watch
ESPN, 8 p.m. Saturday March 9
What happened in the first game
The first matchup between the two squads went almost exactly as I had predicted in my preview. The Spartans came out with a very spirited effort and took an early lead. Michigan battled back and was able to secure the lead midway through the second half. At this point, I expected Michigan to wear out the Spartans with its superior talent and excellent defense, as Michigan looked in complete control of the game with 10 minutes to go. However, a funny thing happened: MSU, which was missing key players, actually wore out U of M. The Wolverines couldn’t hit a shot in the final 10 minutes, and the Spartans took advantage as they came back and held on to win by seven. The Spartans’ defense deserves a ton of credit, as they forced the Wolverines into tough shots and kept them out of their transition game. The other key to the first matchup was Cassius Winston finally overcoming his Michigan demons and having an incredible game. The junior point guard went off for 27 points and eight assists as he completely controlled the game and was downright unstoppable down the stretch. If the Spartans want to sweep the season series against the Wolverines, they need another dominant performance by their star guard.
What’s Happened since the first game
Since the game in Ann Arbor was only two weeks ago, you would think not much has happened with the programs in that short time frame. Well, you would be wrong. The Spartans have gone 1-1 since the big win with an inexplicable loss to a bad Indiana team. They bounced back against Nebraska, but that Indiana performance shows that even though this team has done an admirable job of weathering all the injuries, they still are susceptible to some clunkers. Michigan, on the other hand, looks like a team on a mission. Since the loss to MSU, the Wolverines have had two big wins – the first was an absolute mauling of Nebraska, and the second was a huge road victory over #19 Maryland. The wins were Michigan’s first consecutive road victories in Big Ten Play this year, which is an encouraging sign. It’s not all good news for Michigan, though. They lost Senior guard Charles Matthews to an ankle injury, and he is questionable for the MSU game.
How can Michigan win this game?
For Michigan, it’s simple: they need to finish. They had the lead with 10 minutes to go at home, and the victory was theirs for the taking. However, they feel into their offensive woes, which has happened a lot with this team. The problem for Michigan is that they are simply not a very good offensive team in the half court offense. The strength of Michigan is getting stops on the defensive end and turning those stops/turnover into transition buckets. They weren’t able to do that against MSU and were forced into a bunch of bad shots, which led them to shoot 39% from the field and 26% from beyond the arc. They also turned the ball over nine times compared to MSU’s six turnovers, and that simply is not going to get the job done against this tough Spartan team. For Michigan to win this game, they have to shoot better from the field, but more importantly, they have to use their defense to spring their offense. If they can limit turnovers, get out in transition, and contain Cassius Winston, they can win this game.
How does MSU defend its homecourt?
The Spartans have to do exactly what they did in the first game – grind out the victory against Michigan. Make Michigan work for every shot, force them into mistakes and turnovers, and find enough secondary scoring to help out Cassius Winston. The Michigan game was the best performance of the season by Tom Izzo and the Spartans. They were relentless the entire game, and even when Michigan would make runs and get the momentum, the Spartans found a way to silence the crowd and make a play. If the Spartans follow a similar formula and get another big performance out of Winston, they can sweep the season series against Michigan.
While my prediction was wrong about who was going to win the first game (I picked Michigan) I was right in regard to how I thought the game would play out. I think this game will play out a very similar way as the first one. It’s going to be a grind for both teams to score. Every bucket is going to be earned, and the defenses are going to show up. The stakes for this game couldn’t be higher, and I think you are going to see another barnburner between these two teams. With that being said, the best player on the court in the first game was Cassius Winston, and I expect him to be the best player the second time around. I think it will be neck-and-neck, and then Winston will make a couple plays that will turn the game in the Spartans’ favor. As much as I think Michigan is going to play extremely well and bring their A game, I just don’t think the Spartans are going to lose at home in front of a raucous Breslin crowd, and it’s senior night. I have the Spartans winning a close one over the Wolverines.
Final Score - Spartans 68, Wolverines 64