Game of the Week: No. 21 Michigan vs. No. 3 Michigan State

Story posted January 24, 2014 in Sports, CommRadio by Michael Katz

In-state rivals face off on Saturday in an intriguing Big Ten matchup, as third ranked Michigan State hosts the 21st ranked Michigan Wolverines.

The two teams are a combined 12-0 in conference play, and are the last two teams in the Big Ten without a conference loss.

The Spartans have caught fire since their home loss to North Carolina in early December, rattling off 11 straight wins, including seven in conference. During the streak, Michigan State became the first team to defeat then-3rd ranked Ohio State in overtime, and picked up a second overtime win the following game against Minnesota. The Spartans are most recently coming off of a five point win over Indiana at the Breslin Center.

Michigan has been quite hot as well, since starting the season 6-4 and falling out of the top 25. The Wolverines have won eight straight, most recently defeating 10th ranked Iowa, at home. Three of Michigan’s four losses came against current top 20 teams.

The luster has been restored to the rivalry since Michigan’s program resurgence, under head coach John Beilein. Since he took the head coaching position in 2007, the Wolverines have been to the NCAA Tournament four times, including three straight appearances.

They won the Big Ten tournament in 2012 and made the National Championship a season ago. 2009’s NCAA Tournament appearance was the program’s first since sanctions were imposed for the scandal in relation to team booster Ed Martin, an appearance which was vacated.

Michigan State became a picture of consistency during Michigan’s dark days under head coach Tom Izzo. During Michigan’s 11-year NCAA Tournament drought, the Spartans made the Big Dance every year, made four Final Four appearances, and took home the National Title in the 2000 season.

The rivalry has been much more competitive of late. After a four- game Spartan winning streak between 2008 and 2010, Michigan has taken four out of the last six games, by an average of just over three points a game. The two Spartan wins in that span were by margins of 10 and 23.

Saturday’s meeting will be the 11th meeting with both teams ranked in the top 25. Four of these meetings have taken place in the past two seasons, with each team winning twice at home. This weeks meeting will take place at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. Michigan’s past two wins in the series have been by one point in each instance.

The two teams are very similar and both play great defense. Michigan is 31st in the nation in scoring defense and Michigan State is 36th. Michigan State boasts a slight advantage in offensive production and post play.

Michigan’s best big man, Mitch McGary, is out indefinitely after having back surgery.

Michigan State will be weakened in the post as well. The team’s second leading scorer, Adreian Payne, is questionable. Payne has missed the last four games with a sprained foot. Guard scoring will likely decide the game, as Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas will go head to head. Both players lead their teams in scoring.

Key Players

G Gary Harris, Michigan State:

The sophomore guard Harris may need to play like he did on Tuesday against Indiana, with the potential of Payne missing a fifth straight game. Harris was spectacular in the close win over the Hoosiers, scoring 20 of his 24 points in the second half and draining four of his six three-point attempts.

Harris is a gifted scorer, averaging 18.3 points per game. He is averaging 20 points per game in the four games Payne has missed, scoring 23 and 24 in the last two games.

G Nik Stauskas, Michigan:

What Harris is to the Spartans, Stauskas is to the Wolverines. Like Harris, Stauskas is a sophomore with a similarscoring average of 18 points per game. The Canadian is the teams’ primary scoring threat and has been extremely hot of late scoring 21, 23 and 26 in the last three games. He only needed 14 shots in the meeting against Iowa to register his 26 points.

Michael Katz is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mak5672@psu.edu.