Preview: Michigan State vs. Michigan


The Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team hosts rival Michigan on Saturday afternoon. Here’s what you need to know.

Who: Michigan (9-5, 3-0) at Michigan State (10-4, 2-1)

Tip-off: 2:3o PM EST

TV: Fox

Line: MSU -4

Michigan State at a Glance

The Spartans began the season with their typical meat grinder of a schedule. They fell to Gonzaga, but bounced back to notch impressive wins against Kentucky and Villanova. Next MSU went 2-1 at the Phil Knight Invitational, losing to a very talented Alabama squad before beating Oregon and Portland.

But then the Spartans suffered a pair of rough losses. They fell by 18 points to Notre Dame in South Bend, and lost by seven in East Lansing to a scrappy Northwestern team. MSU has turned things around since then, reeling off five consecutive wins, including an 18-point blowout of Nebraska on Tuesday.

Michigan at a Glance

It’s been a bizarre year for the Wolverines. They managed to win alarmingly close games against bad teams like Eastern Michigan, Jackson State, Lipscomb, and Ohio. They blew out a solid Pittsburgh team. But then they were destroyed by a similarly skilled Arizona State squad.

Michigan dropped a trio of heartbreakers against the best teams on their schedule, losing to Virginia, Kentucky, and North Carolina by a combined 10 points. And then they inexplicably fell at home to an abysmal Central Michigan team. Things looked dire for the Wolverines. But now they’re coming off a pair of solid wins, including a 35-point destruction of Maryland, and a 10-point victory over Penn State on Wednesday.

Keys to the Game

The publicly available advanced stats have these two teams nearly identical in quality. Ken Pomeroy ranks MSU 43rd in the country and UM 45th, while Bart Torvik has them 53rd and 56th. The Breslin Center and its lively Izzone give MSU the edge, but a few things could swing the game in either direction.

Tempo – Michigan State is one of the more deliberate teams in the country, averaging 65.5 possessions per game. The Wolverines aren’t a track team, but they average about four more possessions per game. Scoring 70 points is key for them, as Michigan is 9-1 this season when they reach the 70-point mark, and 0-4 when they don’t. MSU has topped 75 points just three times this year, while Michigan has done it nine times. If UM wants to pull off an upset, they likely need to push the tempo as much as possible.

They Shootin’ – Making shots is a good way to win basketball games. That’s no secret. MSU has the advantage over Michigan behind the arc (37.5% to 35.4%) and at the charity stripe (73.5% to 68.1%). The Spartans will almost certainly win if they can limit Michigan’s three-point tries and force the Wolverines to the line when they get inside. And the inverse is true for Michigan. Their best bet is to force MSU into taking contested twos and trying to limit fouls.

Wildcard – Versatile wing Malik Hall is arguably MSU’s best player. He missed eight games with a foot injury and has been relatively limited in his two games since returning. If he’s fully healthy he changes the complexion of this matchup. For Michigan the X factor is probably Jett Howard. Kobe Bufkin has stepped up (15.7 ppg on 58.3% shooting) since starting point guard Jaelin Llewellyn went down for the season. But Howard is just 5-for-20 from three and 9-for-32 overall in his last three games. He needs to find his shooting touch for Michigan to win.

Positions of Importance

Guard Play – The Spartans have four guards who average at least 10 minutes per game. The Wolverines have two healthy guards on their entire roster. Michigan has done a terrific job avoiding turnovers (#2 in the country) despite losing Llewellyn for the year. But if MSU point guard A.J. Hoggard can stay aggressive and get Dug McDaniel or Bufkin into foul trouble, Michigan doesn’t have many other options to initiate the offense.

The Bigs – Hunter Dickinson remains the key to Michigan’s offense, and he seems to have fully embraced his role as a heel. He was stuffed into a locker by North Carolina big man Armando Bacot and scored just 13 points against CMU. But he bounced back for big games against undersized Maryland and Penn State teams.

MSU center Mady Sissoko was a higher-ranked prospect than Dickinson coming out of high school, though he did little in his first two years. But big men take time to develop. And Sissoko looked like he made the leap early this year, averaging 15 points and 8.5 rebounds against Gonzaga and Kentucky. His scoring has dipped since, but if he can continue his good work on the glass and offset some of Dickinson’s scoring, the Spartans have a strong chance at a victory.

Photo Credit: Lansing State Journal