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Posts Tagged ‘Spartans’

Michigan-Michigan State game preview

Saturday, October 25th, 2014


Game Preview_Michigan State_banner

Ten years ago current Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was a part of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, but wearing the other colors. He felt the sting of one of the best Michigan wins in the history of the rivalry, on the losing end of what Michigan fans affectionately refer to as ‘Braylonfest’. Now he hopes to help Michigan recapture that magic.

But Michigan will need to reverse a disturbing trend that started on the day of that epic comeback. In each of the past 10 years, Michigan has scored fewer points against Michigan State than the previous year. From 45 in 2004 to 34 to 31 to 28 to 21 to 20 to 17 to 14 to 12 to six. The first four of those resulted in wins, as did the 12 points scored two years ago. But if that trend continues Michigan will lose for the sixth time in the last seven years.

UM-PennState-small-final
Quick Facts
Spartan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (8th season)
Coaching Record: 88-47 (70-30 at MSU)
Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (2nd season)
Dave Warner (8th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Pat Narduzzi (8th season)
Returning Starters: 11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
Last Season: 13-1 (8-0 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: MSU 29 – UM 6 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 63-33-5
Record at Spartan Stadium: Michigan leads 17-13-1
Current Streak: Michigan State 1
Last 10 Meetings:  Tied 5-5
Last Michigan Win: 2012 (12-10)
Last Michigan Road Win: 2007 (28-24)

Michigan State has taken advantage of the instability of Michigan’s program since Lloyd Carr retired following the 2007 season. Since then, the Spartans have been the Big Ten’s most stable program, winning two of their eight all-time conference titles and three straight bowl games, including last year’s Rose Bowl.

This season has been no different as Michigan State leads the Big Ten East division with a 6-1 record overall and 3-0 record in conference play. The only blemish was a 46-27 defeat at third-ranked Oregon in Week 2. But aside from the Ducks, Michigan State’s schedule has been pretty light thus far with non-conference wins over Jacksonville State (FCS), Eastern Michigan, and Wyoming, and conference wins over #19 Nebraska, Purdue, and Indiana.

The Nebraska win was certainly a quality one as it stands as the Cornhusker’s only defeat to date. In that game, Michigan State held a commanding 27-3 lead at the end of the third quarter before allowing Nebraska to pull within five points after three straight fourth quarter touchdowns. Nebraska actually had the ball at the Michigan State 37 in the final minute, but Tommy Armstrong Jr was picked off to end the game.

Since then, the Spartans have struggled against two of the Big Ten’s bottom-feeders. Purdue scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to pull within seven points with six minutes remaining, and like Nebraska, had the ball in the closing minutes with a chance to tie it up. But Michigan State intercepted quarterback Austin Appleby and returned it for a touchdown to inflate the final score. Last week against an Indiana squad starting a true freshman quarterback in his very first collegiate action, Michigan State allowed the Hoosiers to hang around for the first half thanks to running back Tevin Coleman’s 132 yards on 15 carries. MSU pulled away in the second half for a comfortable win, but Indiana exposed some gaps in the Spartan defense.

So what does that all mean? For one, Michigan State isn’t as invincible as it seems. But can Michigan actually go into East Lansing and pull out a victory? Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Michigan defense vs Michigan State offense: When Michigan State has the ball

The most surprising aspect of Michigan State this season has been its offense. Even MSU writers can’t believe how much progress has been made since the first half of last season when the Spartans offense looked much like Michigan’s has looked at times this season. Through the first seven games this season, Michigan State ranks third nationally in scoring (47 points per game), 12th in total offense (525.1 yards per game), 15th in rushing (260 yards per game), and 42nd in passing (265.1 yards per game). It also ranks first nationally in time of possession (36:22), first in sacks allowed (four), and 17th in third-down conversions (47 percent).

Connor Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)

Connor Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency (Michael Hickey, Getty Images)

The main reason for the success of the MSU offense is the development of junior quarterback Connor Cook. While his completion percentage is down 2.7 percent from last season, Cook ranks second in the Big Ten in pass efficiency behind only Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and fourth in passing yards per game with 234.4.  He has thrown for at least 230 yards in five of seven games, and the only two he didn’t — against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming — he attempted fewer than 10 passes and backups Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry each saw extended action.

It certainly helps that Cook has a talented receiving corps to throw to, led by 6’3″, 185-pound senior Tony Lippett, who has caught 39 passes for 786 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s the only receiver in the Big Ten averaging over 100 yards per game (112.3) and he leads the conference in touchdown receptions and yards per catch (20.2). He has scored in every game except last week and he also had a 32-yard touchdown run against Nebraska. Sophomore tight end Josiah Price is the second-leading receiver with 15 catches for 244 yards and four touchdowns, while five other receivers have over 100 yards and at least one touchdown: Junior Aaron Burbridge (158 yards and one touchdown), junior Macgarrett Kings Jr (142 and one), senior Keith Mumphery (123 and one), sophomore R.J. Shelton (102 and one), and junior A.J. Troup (100 and two).

The backfield is led by talented senior running back Jeremy Langford who ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 94.9 rushing yards per game, though he’s a far cry from the top four. But Langford has eclipsed 100 yards in each of the last four games and scored three touchdowns last week. Unlike the four ahead of him, he shares the backfield, and while it’s not a complete share, his backfield mate, senior Nick Hill, has 76 carries for 465 yards and six touchdowns. Last week he recorded the first 100-yard performance of his career with 178 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Sophomore Delton Williams also plays a role as a home run threat, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, and five touchdowns on just 33 carries.

The offensive line had to replace three starters from last season, but the unit has done a great job of protecting Cook. The Spartans lead the nation in sacks allowed with just four in seven games. The only lineman to start every game at the same position this season is sophomore left tackle Jack Conklin. Fifth-year senior Travis Jackson has started six games at left guard and one at center, while regular center Jack Allen has started five and should return from an ankle injury this week. Junior Donovan Clark has started every game, six at right guard and one at right tackle, and sophomore Kodi Kieler has started six at right tackle.

Michigan offense vs Michigan State defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defense is how Mark Dantonio built Michigan State into a power over the past few years, and while this year’s version is good, it’s not quite at the elite level it has been recently. Pat Narduzzi’s defense ranks 34th nationally in scoring (21.6 points per game), ninth in total defense (292.7 yards per game), eighth in rush defense (100.3 yards per game), and 19th in pass defense (192.4 yards per game). Statistically, it’s very comparable to Michigan’s defense which most Michigan fans have been down on. The two areas that are considerably better than Michigan’s are third-down defense (25 percent compared to 36) and sacks (26 compared to 18).

Narduzzi had to replace seven full-time starters, but returned a solid core including junior defensive end Shilique Calhoun, senior end Marcus Rush, and senior linebacker Taiwan Jones. Calhoun and Rush have combined for 14 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. The interior of the line is new this season, but juniors Joel Heath and Lawrence Thomas have held up well, but have given up some big runs up the middle the past few weeks.

Jones leads the linebacking corps with 30 tackles, 7.5 for loss, and three sacks, but junior SAM linebacker Ed Davis leads the team with six sacks and eight tackles for loss. Junior Darrien Harris rounds out the group at the STAR spot with 25 tackles, 1.5 for loss, half a sack, and an interception.

The secondary is led by senior safety Kurtis Drummond, whose 33 tackles, six passes defended, and two interceptions lead the team. The strong safety, freshman Montae Nicholson, is young and prone to mistakes, while junior safety R.J. Williamson, ranks second with 30 tackles to go along with five passes defended and a pick. Junior cornerback Trae Waynes is a star and definitely one of the top corners in the Big Ten. He has 23 tackles, two for loss, one sack, six passes defended, and two interceptions. The field corner is sophomore Darian Hicks and he’s much more vulnerable than Waynes.

Special Teams: The other third

Sophomore kicker Michael Geiger is solid, having converted 7-of-11 this season with a long of 42, although he’s just 2-of-5 from 40-plus. Senior punter Mike Sadler has been around forever and ranks 10th in the Big Ten with an average of 40.6 yards per punt. He has downed 11 of 31 inside the 20 while only two have gone into the end zone.

The return game is pretty lackluster, ranking 60th nationally on kicks and 89th on punts. Shelton ranks sixth in the Big Ten with an average of 22.2 yards per kick return, while Kings Jr ranks fifth with an average of 6.9 yards per punt return.

Prediction

Of course the most vulnerable Michigan State defense in several years gets to face the worse Michigan offense in several years. On Thursday, Spartan Tailgate writer Chris Vannini told us that he thinks Michigan will be able to make some big plays as teams have done on MSU this season. Apparently he hasn’t watched Michigan much as the Wolverines have struggled to make big plays against anyone other than Appalachian State.

Michigan’s defense will be one of the best Michigan State has faced this season, similar to Nebraska’s which held MSU to just 27 points, their fewest of the season. But unlike last week when Michigan was able to pressure Christian Hackenberg all day, the Spartan offensive line will protect Cook. That will allow him to pick apart the secondary just like Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Rutgers’ Gary Nova did.

Expect Michigan to hang around through the first half, but with the inability to make big plays Doug Nussmeier’s offense will have a hard time stringing together enough scoring drives. Michigan State will pull away in the second half with efficient, time consuming drives and keep the Paul Bunyan Trophy in East Lansing for the sixth time in seven years.

Michigan State 33 – Michigan 13

Michigan State Q&A with Chris Vannini of SpartanTailgate.com

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


MSU Q-A_banner

Each Thursday throughout the season we collaborate with that week’s opponent blog to get some questions answered by the guys who know more about their team than we do. This week, we partnered with Chris Vannini, writer for SpartanTailgate.com, part of the 247 Sports Network. He was kind enough to answer questions about the way Michigan State fans view Michigan at the moment, how the MSU offense got so good, what — if anything — Michigan’s offense can exploit on Saturday, and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVannini.

1. Michigan State has five wins in the past six years, and is big favorites again this week. It’s got to be getting old, right?

It’s certainly something no one saw coming, having only happened once before, when MSU went 6-0-2 from 1956-63. Yet even in the build-up to this week, it’s clear more intensity is coming from one side, and that’s the MSU side. Now, part of that is certainly because of U-M’s struggles and a developing apathy amongst U-M fans, but this won’t last forever, so MSU fans are making sure they enjoy as much as they can.

2. But seriously, how do Michigan State fans view the current state of the Michigan program and Coach Hoke? With glee, with pity, or what?

More than anything, I think it’s a feeling of, “I told you so.” When Hoke came in and started cleaning up in recruiting, many stories were written about the second coming of a 10-Year War between U-M and OSU, especially after MSU’s 2012 struggles. But it turned out that was an anomaly, and a program that had developed players for five years continued to do so. No one is wondering if MSU can sustain under Mark Dantonio anymore. Years of top recruiting classes and fast starts followed by players not developing and seasons falling apart have taken away any benefit of the doubt U-M receives, while MSU is getting that benefit for the first time, as shown by their high ranking despite the Oregon loss.

3. Since Mark Dantonio took over, the Spartans have had great defenses and average offenses. What’s different about this season? How did the offense get so good, especially after how bad it was the first half of last season?

I’ve never seen a unit improve as much as MSU’s offense did throughout last season, and I don’t think I ever will again. Even MSU’s offensice coaches were surprised, because the offseason is typically when that development happens. With where things ended last year, and with all the skill players coming back (other than Bennie Fowler), we figured the offense could have to carry the team early in the season. But we didn’t see this coming, an offense that is on pace to be the most prolific in school history.

The passing game and Connor Cook continued where they left off, and Cook has played himself into NFL first-round pick consideration. Replacing holes on the offensive line was the question mark. They’ve dealt with some injuries, and aren’t as deep as a year ago, but the results have been promising. MSU is still a solid, not great, running team, and MSU has allowed the fewest sacks per game in the country. Cook has time, and he can find his bevy of receivers, especially Tony Lippett, who has gone from being benched early last season to being one of the best receivers in the country this year, catching everything.

4. By now, we’re used to a vaunted MSU defense, but it seems that MSU has taken a minor step back defensively so far this season. Michigan is actually allowing 0.2 fewer points per game and fewer rushing yards per game. Is there anything that Michigan’s offense has any hope of exploiting this week?

The biggest issue for this defense has been big plays, and it’s because the safeties have struggled. Kurtis Drummond has been inconsistent, and RJ Williamson and true freshman Montae Nicholson have been sharing time at the other safety spot. MSU has allowed 19 plays of at least 30 yards, which is No. 103 nationally. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they’ve been really bad at getting explosive plays on offense. But it’s something most teams have been able to do to MSU this season. The defense as a unit has gone from “elite” to “good,” and the big plays are the biggest problem.

5. Where do you see Michigan State having the biggest advantage this week, and why?

I think it has to come down to MSU’s defensive line against U-M’s offensive line, as it did a year ago. Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush are both playing great on the outside, and Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath and Malik McDowell have the tackles more disruptive than a year ago. I don’t expect minus-48 rushing yards, but I think Michigan will have trouble getting anything going on the ground, especially with Derrick Green out.

6. Finally, what’s your prediction and how will it happen?

I’m going to go with a 38-24 MSU victory. With the weather looking nice, I think both teams will be able to move the ball (yes, including U-M). MSU will be able to move up and down with the pass, and I think U-M will be able to hit some big plays. Everyone has done it to MSU this year. I don’t see why U-M won’t. But I think it’ll be MSU’s offense that’s the difference in this one, unlike years past.

First Look: Michigan State

Monday, October 20th, 2014


FirstLook-MichiganState

Two weeks ago Michigan stopped the bleeding with a 18-13 win over Penn State, allowing the Wolverines to head into a bye week with momentum. But now the toughest game of the season so far awaits, a trip up I-96 to face rival Michigan State, which enters 6-1 and 3-0 in the Big Ten. It’s no secret that the rivalry has turned in the last six years. Does Michigan have a chance to win back Paul Bunyan? Or will Michigan State continue its recent domination? Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the first seven games of the season.

Michigan State Statistics & Michigan Comparison
Michigan StateMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 47.0 | 21.7 3 | 105
21.6 | 21.4 T34T30
Rushing Yards 1,820 | 1,149 702 | 655
Rush Avg. Per Game 260.0 | 164.1 15 | 64 100.3 | 93.6 8 | 4
Avg. Per Rush 5.4 | 4.7
3.4 | 2.7
Passing Yards 1,856 | 1,231 1,347 | 1,452
Pass Avg. Per Game 265.1 | 175.9 42 | 108 192.4 | 207.4 19 | 36
Total Offense 3,676 | 2,380 2,049 | 2,107
Total Off Avg. Per Game 525.1 | 340.0 12 | 110 292.7 | 301.0 9 | 10
Kick Return Average 21.1 | 19.1 60 | 97 20.9 | 19.5 70 | 44
Punt Return Average 6.9 | 7.8 89 | 68 13.7 | 14.4 115 | 117
Avg. Time of Possession 36:22 | 30:38 1 | 45
23:38 | 29:22
3rd Down Conversion Pct 47.0% | 41.0% 17 | 62
25.0% | 36.0% 3 | 44
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 4-15 | 15-96
T1 | T82
26-186 | 18-150
T4 | T41
Touchdowns Scored 44 | 18
20 | 16
Field Goals-Attempts 7-11 | 8-12
4-5 | 13-14
Red Zone Scores (33-38) 87% | (16-17) 94% 41 | 8
(15-17) 88%(20-22) 91% T94 | T105
Red Zone Touchdowns (28-38) 74% | (13-17) 76% (11-17) 65% | (11-22) 50%
Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) .246 | -.015
36 | 67 -.269 | -.163 39 | 50

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a power in recent years through a punishing and aggressive defense, but this year’s team is getting it done with its offense which ranks third nationally in scoring (47 points per game), behind only Baylor (49) and Marshall (47.4). The Spartans have scored 56 or more points in three of seven games and 45 in two of the other four. The other two were both 27-point outputs in a loss to Oregon in Week 2 and a win over Nebraska in Week 5. UCLA, Arizona, and Washington State each scored more than 27 against Oregon, while the 27 MSU scored on Nebraska are the second-most the Cornhuskers have allowed this season.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 29 Jacksonville State W 45-7
Sept. 6 at #3 Oregon L 27-46
Sept. 20 Eastern Michigan W 73-14
Sept. 27 Wyoming W 56-14
Oct. 4 #19 Nebraska W 27-22
Oct. 11 at Purdue W 45-31
Oct. 18 at Indiana W 56-17
Oct. 25 Michigan
Nov. 8 #13 Ohio State
Nov. 15 at Maryland
Nov. 22 Rutgers
Nov. 29 at Penn State

What’s more is that the Spartans are equally effective on the ground and through the air as opposed to recent years when the running game carried the offense. The running game ranks 15th nationally, averaging 260 yards per game, while the passing game ranks 42nd, averaging 265.1 yards per game. Michigan State has been held below 200 yards rushing just twice — 123 yards against Oregon and 188 against Nebraska. But while the running game didn’t work against Oregon, the Spartans racked up 343 yards through the air, their second-best passing performance of the season. Likewise, the two biggest rushing games — 336 yards against Eastern Michigan and 338 against Wyoming — were the two lowest passing performances — 160 and 195.

While the offense is balanced, it has the ability to control the ball, as evidenced by the fact that Michigan State ranks first nationally in time of possession, averaging 36:22 per game. In addition, the Spartans have allowed only four sacks all season, tied with Duke and Wisconsin for the fewest in the nation. So the Michigan State offense is dangerous on the ground and through the air, doesn’t let opposing defenses get to the quarterback, and possess the ball better than anyone in the country. Doesn’t sound like Michigan State does it?

It’s a good thing for Dantonio that the offense took such a big leap forward this season because his defense isn’t nearly as stout as it has been the past couple years. It’s allowing virtually the exact number of points per game as Michigan (21.6 versus 21.4), has a slightly better pass defense and a slightly worse rush defense. Aside from giving up 46 points to Oregon, State’s defense allowed 31 to Purdue two weeks ago and let Indiana to run all over them last week. Granted, the latter two both resulted in wins, but not thanks to the defense.

Michigan State held four of the first five opponents under 100 yards rushing — Oregon’s 173 yards was the exception — but Purdue and Indiana have both had success the past two weeks. Purdue averaged 5.2 yards per carry and Indiana averaged 6.4. Perhaps they have found something they can exploit. Of course, neither Purdue nor Indiana possessed a defense capable of holding Michigan State’s offense in check, so they both lost. Last season, only four of 14 opponents eclipsed 100 yards and they were four of the final five games of the season.

Four of seven opponents have passed for over 200 yards against the Spartans, but MSU’s pass defense numbers look much better after holding Indiana to just 11 passing yards last week on 5-of-16 passing. That shouldn’t be a surprise, however, as Indiana was starting a true freshman quarterback for the first time — the first playing time of his career — after losing starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld for the season. Oregon threw for 318 yards, Nebraska for 282, Jacksonville State for 222, and Purdue for 211.

While Michigan State’s offense and defense are both very good, the special teams leave something to be desired. MSU ranks 60th in kick return average, 89th in punt return average, 70th in kick return defense, and 115th in punt return defense.

Unlike Indiana and Purdue, Michigan has a defense that can allow it to remain in the game if its offense can find a way to put up points. But it will take a flawless performance in order to do so.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Average/Game
Connor Cook 108-176 1,641 16 5 234.4
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Jeremy Langford 125 664 7 36 5.3
Nick Hill 76 465 6 76 6.1
Delton Williams 33 239 5 80 7.2
R.J. Shelton 15 127 1 30 8.5
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
Tony Lippett 39 786 8 71 112.3
Josiah Price 15 244 4 67 34.9
Aaron Burbridge 13 158 1 22 22.6
Macgarrett Kings Jr. 14 142 1 29 20.3
Keith Mumphery 9 123 1 43 17.6
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Kurtis Drummond (S) 29 4 33 2.0-6 0-0 (2 INT, 6PD)
Taiwan Jones (LB) 15 15 30 7.5-20 3.0-11
Ed Davis (LB) 14 14 28 8.0-31 6.0-25
Marcus Rush (DE) 17 8 25 6.5-40 3.5-34
Shilique Calhoun (DE) 16 6 22 7.5-81 5.0-70
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Michael Geiger 7 11 42 43 43
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Mike Sadler 31 1,259 40.6 11 2
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Michigan State in the coming days.

Five-Spot Challenge 2014: Michigan State

Monday, October 20th, 2014


Five-SpotChallenge_Banner1

Congratulations to Hazel Parker for picking up his first win of the season. He won twice last season and three times in 2011. He was the only contestant under 100 points last week with a deviation of 96, topping second place tooty_pops by 42. As is usually the case, Hazel Parker wasn’t the closest in any single category, but was the most consistent across the board. He was third-closest to Christian Hackenberg’s passing yards (52 away), sixth-closest to Michigan’s rushing yards (28 away), second-closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover (three away), and third-closest to the longest field goal (three away). He wins a $20 M Den gift card.

Kashkaav correctly predicted that the longest field goal would be 45 yards, while Maizenblu62 was only one away. Kfarmer16 was the closest to Devin Gardner’s longest completion, only one away with his prediction of 44 yards. Bigboyblue and BigHouseBrandon were the closest to the minutes until Michigan’s first turnover. It happened 16 minutes into the game and they both predicted 17. MEKMichigan’s prediction of 67  yards was the closest to Michigan’s rushing total (64), while Kashkaav’s guess of 180 was the closest to Hackenberg’s passing yards (160).

No one correctly predicted the final score, although MichiganMack was the closest with his prediction of Michigan 20 – Penn State 12. The average score prediction was Michigan 24 – Penn State 23 and 14 of the 21 contestants picked Michigan to win.

The weekly results and overall standings have been updated.

After a bye week, Michigan heads up the road to face rival Michigan State. Here are this week’s questions.

Third time’s the harm: Michigan State 69 – Michigan 55

Sunday, March 16th, 2014


MSU BTT win 3-16-14(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

With the Big Ten regular season title under its belt and a possible one-seed in the NCAA Tournament, Michigan faced off with Michigan State for the Big Ten Tournament title on Sunday afternoon. But instead of running the table and pulling off a three-game sweep of the Spartans, Michigan was outplayed and handed a 69-55 defeat.

Nik Stauskas started the game just as he left off the previous two meetings. His first shot of the game was good for three, and after a pair of Adreian Payne free throws, Derrick Walton Jr added a three to give Michigan an early 6-2 lead. The Wolverines widened it to 9-4 before Michigan State scored 12 straight to take a 16-9 lead.

After a Michigan time out, Stauskas hit another three to stop the run, but Michigan State kept the foot on the pedal. The Spartans’ game plan was clear from the start: get the ball inside and take it to Michigan’s big men. It worked as Jordan Morgan and Jon Hoford both picked up several fouls in the first few minutes, forcing John Beilein to turn to Max Bielfeldt for major minutes.

Keith Appling made a layup to put Michigan State ahead 23-14 and Beilein received a technical foul — his second in the last four games. Travis Trice made both free throws, but Stauskas responded with a four-point play to negate the whole sequence. Michigan State took a 38-29 lead into the locker room.

The second half started out as badly as possible for Michigan as Michigan State scored eight straight and Michigan missed its first six shots. Suddenly, a nine-point halftime deficit was 17 just three minutes into the half. Morgan ended the Spartan run, but Dawson answered with a jumper of his own. Michigan was never able to get closer than ten the rest of the way and Michigan State captured its fourth ever Big Ten Tournament crown.

For the game, Michigan shot just 31.5 percent and 26.1 percent from three-point range. Michigan State, meanwhile, shot 50 percent from the field despite making just 2-of-17 from downtown. Michigan had no answer for the Spartans’ inside game without Morgan and Horford for most of the game.

Stauskas led Michigan with 17 points on just 4-of-14 shooting. He hit 3-of-5 three-pointers, but often struggled to find an open shot, especially in the second half. Walton was the only other Michigan player in double figures with 11 points, while Caris LeVert scored just seven on 2-of-10 shooting and Glenn Robinson III just six on 2-of-8 shooting.

Three Stars

***Adreian Payne***
18 points (6-of-13 FG, 1-of-4 3PT, 5-of-5 FT), nine rebounds (one offensive), one assist, one block, two turnovers in 29 minutes

**Branden Dawson**
15 points (7-of-8 FG, 1-of-1 FT), six rebounds (one offensive), one assist, one block, in 24 minutes

*Gary Harris*
15 points (7-of-13 FG, 1-of-5 3PT), two rebounds, two assists, three steals, one turnover in 30 minutes

Quick Hitters:


___________________________________________________________

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 2-8 0-3 2-2 1 2 3 2 6 0 0 0 1 31
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 3-6 1-4 4-5 1 3 4 3 11 1 0 1 0 30
11 Nik Stauskas* 4-14 3-5 6-6 1 1 2 1 17 1 3 0 0 39
52 Jordan Morgan* 4-6 0-0 0-0 4 2 6 4 8 0 2 0 0 20
23 Caris LeVert* 2-10 0-4 2-3 0 1 1 0 7 4 3 0 1 34
02 Spike Albrecht 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 1 11
05 Andrew Dakich 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
15 Jon Horford 0-2 0-0 0-0 1 1 2 4 0 0 1 1 0 5
20 Sean Lonergan 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
21 Zak Irvin 2-5 2-5 0-0 0 1 1 0 6 0 0 0 0 15
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-2 0-2 0-0 2 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 13
Totals 17-54 6-23 15-16 13 15 28 15 55 7 9 3 3 200
Michigan State 27-54 2-17 13-15 14 24 38 19 69 14 10 6 7 200
Full Stats

Justin’s 3 thoughts: Michigan State

Sunday, March 16th, 2014


Michigan-Michigan State header_BTT

Michigan staved off an Ohio State comeback on Saturday afternoon to beat the Buckeyes for the first time in seven tries in Big Ten Tournament play and advance to its first championship game since 1998. Michigan State, meanwhile, held off Wisconsin to reach its fourth championship game and first since winning it in 2012. Thus, it set up a third meeting between the two intrastate rivals, but just the first ever meeting in Big Ten Tournament play.

In the Jan. 25 meeting in East Lansing, Michigan State was without the services of both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson and Michigan capitalized with a 80-75 victory. In the return meeting on Feb. 23, the Spartans had Payne back but were still without Dawson and Michigan once again pulled out the win, 79-70. This time around, with the championship on the line, Tom Izzo’s squad is healthy and out of excuses.

Can Michigan beat MSU for the third time in less than two weeks and become the seventh Big Ten team to win both the outright regular season title and the tournament championship in the same season? Or will the Spartans exact revenge for the first two matchups and steal the tournament trophy? Here are my three keys to the game:

Branden Dawson is eager to face Michigan for the first time this season and try to shut down Stauskas (Michael Conroy, AP)

Branden Dawson is eager to face Michigan for the first time this season and try to shut down Stauskas (Michael Conroy, AP)

Get off to a hot start

Michigan State is sure acting confident in the lead up to this winner-take-all battle. Izzo likened it to ‘Fourth of July on Christmas,’ whatever that means, and Gary Harris reportedly texted Zak Irvin earlier in the week, saying ‘see you on Sunday.’ The reality is they’ve lost six of the last eight meetings, so the pressure is on them.

Michigan was able to survive a big Spartan lead at the beginning of the game in Ann Arbor and come back to win, but a big Michigan State lead on Sunday will only give them more confidence. Conversely, if Michigan is able to jump out to a big lead early on it will cause the Spartans to force their play and doubts will start creeping in.

The game won’t be won or lost in the first ten minutes, but — aside from Saturday’s hot start — Michigan has had a propensity for slow starts over the last month. They can’t afford to do so on Sunday and give Michigan State the confidence it needs to take control of the game.

Make sure Stauskas gets his shots

In the first two meetings Stauskas scored a combined 44 points on 16-of-25 shooting and 8-of-11 three-point shooting. With Dawson out, Stauskas was able to get off good looks over the smaller Keith Appling. But now the 6’6″ Dawson is back and has the ability to guard Stauskas on the perimeter or make it tough for him to get open looks.

This adds a new dynamic for Michigan than the first two meetings, so expect John Beilein to have something ready to free up Stauskas or use the Canadian sharpshooter as a decoy to get open looks for others. No, Beilein doesn’t have a week to prepare for this one, but he’s shown time and again that he’s able to design effective offensive schemes.

In the first meeting Michigan State was guarding the perimeter hard and coming over the top of ball screens. In the second meeting, Beilein had the offense look for back cuts and was able to get some easy buckets. Expect something similar on Sunday.

Make free throws

It sounds like a lame key to the game, but this one is going to come down to the wire and every point will be crucial. Michigan was the Big Ten’s best free throw shooting team all season, making 76.3 percent. In the first two meetings, Michigan went a combined 42-of-55 — an identical 76.3 percent.

In Saturday’s win over Ohio State, however, Michigan wasn’t able to capitalize on its trips to the charity stripe, making just 10-of-19. Fortunately, it didn’t cost them the game, but rest assured if there’s a repeat performance on Sunday Michigan won’t win.

Prediction: Michigan 73 – Michigan State 71

Sweeping Sparty: Michigan 79 – Michigan State 70

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014


Stauskas dunk vs MSU 2-23-14(Scott Mapes, UMHoops)

In a basketball game being called one of the biggest ever in Ann Arbor, with all the marbles on the line and a clear road to the Big Ten championship at stake, Michigan and Michigan State put on a game for the ages. Back and forth they went, the Spartans jumping out to a quick double-digit lead in the first half, then the Wolverines battling back to make it a two-point halftime deficit and taking a lead themselves early in the second stanza.

All afternoon, it seemed that the game would come down to a last-second possession, but somewhere along the way, Michigan decided they wanted it more and Michigan State lost its steam.

Once the Maize and Blue clawed back from the small but tough deficits they were in to go up 50-49 with 11:18 left, Michigan State was certain to draw closer. And they did, with a Gary Harris three to re-gain the lead less than a minute later. Then Nik Stauskas answered with a three of his own, and we’d all seen the narrative before – Michigan gets over the hump, Michigan State fights back, game comes down to wire, one rival wins in heart-stopping fashion.

After all, three of the past five meetings between these bitter enemies had been decided by five points or fewer – and two by a single point.

Nik Stauskas dominated the second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points (MGoBlue.com)

Nik Stauskas dominated the second half, scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points (MGoBlue.com)

Today, however, the story would follow a different path. Once Stauskas drained that three, good for his 18th, 19th, and 20th points of the day, Michigan got a stop, then two free throws from LeVert, then another stop, and another three from Stauskas to go up by seven. Michigan State called a timeout, and rightfully so with the noise of the Crisler crowd. But after the timeout, it was LeVert’s turn to continue digging the Spartan grave with a three and a dunk off a turnover to give him 21 points on the day.

When the two sophomores finally took their feet off the pedal, Michigan had already amassed a 12-point lead on the backs of the 21-4 run put on entirely by LeVert and Stauskas, and the game was over.

Sure, the clock still had seven minutes and change left, but the Spartans simply weren’t coming back.

When the clock eventually did strike zero, the scoreboard read Michigan 79, Michigan State 70. The Wolverines were back again.

This time around, Michigan State couldn’t blame the loss on two absent stars. Adreian Payne, their best player, was back in full form, and while forward Branden Dawson had to sit out again, both teams were down a starter.

It’s certainly clear now that Michigan has adjusted much better to their adversity than their counterparts in East Lansing. There have been bumps in the road to be sure, but the Maize and Blue have played through the loss of Mitch McGary in mid-December like nothing ever happened.

Stauskas, the sophomore many are calling the best player in the Big Ten, broke out of a mini slump today with spectacular team highs of 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting (3-of-5 from deep) and five assists. LeVert, being billed as the Big Ten’s most improved, complemented his classmate’s game remarkably with 23 points (7-of-15 FG, 3-of-5 3PT) and three assists of his own. Together, the pair who played second fiddle to the likes of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and even McGary and Glenn Robinson III last season, emerged for all to see today with more than 60 percent of Michigan’s total offensive output.

LeVert, with 14 points in the first half, including a wide open, buzzer-beating, corner three that splashed net with LeVert already halfway down the court, kept Michigan alive. Stauskas, with 21 after the break, including shot after shot falling away with a hand in his face, put the nails in Michigan State’s coffin.

The pair also got a big boost from the quiet Glenn Robinson III, who finished with 15 points — 11 in the second half — on 12 shots despite missing all three of his threes and four of his seven free throws.

What stands out most about the win, however, is how Michigan completely abolished Tom Izzo’s defensive game plan and simply out-smarted the Spartans all game long. In the first half, when buckets were hard to come by, the Wolverines scored on a variety of back-cuts against an overly-aggressive defense. In the second half, Michigan drove the ball much better and started hitting their outside shots while stymying Michigan State’s attack with a 1-3-1 zone defense.

Michigan has won six of the last eight against the Spartans (MGoBlue.com)

Michigan has won six of the last eight against the Spartans (MGoBlue.com)

With a quick glance at the box score, it’s clear what the difference was: Michigan turned the ball over just three times while taking advantage of 13 Michigan State giveaways to outscore the Spartans 14-0 off of turnovers.

Postgame thoughts are often overly optimistic or pessimistic based on the very recent play of a given team, but today it seems obvious that this Michigan win will hold great weight for a long time.

With the victory, the Wolverines have complete control of their conference finish. Win the four winnable-looking games (at Purdue, home versus Minnesota,  at Illinois, home versus Indiana) left on the schedule, and the Big Ten title goes to Michigan – no splits, no shares, no ties.

The win also means that even if Michigan and Michigan State somehow play each other two more times this season – highly unlikely – and the Spartans win both (again, this is a hypothetical) no Wolverine will have a losing record against their in-state foes at the end of the season. That includes senior Jordan Morgan, who will in all likelihood finish his career with a 6-2 mark against Michigan State.

Michigan’s triumph also ensures a black mark on Michigan State seniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne’s college careers – neither will ever be able to claim a victory over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

Following the momentous win, John Beilein credited his team with playing a great game against a great opponent, but noted that his Wolverines will quickly move on after celebrating tonight, because, of course, they are now only “in position to be in position.”

But he didn’t leave the press room before making a statement that just about everyone already realized.

“Michigan is back in so many ways.”

Indeed.

Three Stars:

***Nik Stauskas***
25 points (9-of-13 FG, 3-of-5 3PT, 4-of-6 FT), three rebounds, five assists, two turnovers in 37 minutes

**Caris LeVert**
23 points (7-of-15 FG, 3-of-5 3PT, 6-of-8 FT), three rebounds, three assists, one steal in 39 minutes

*Gary Harris*
21 points (7-of-17 FG, 4-of-13 3PT, 3-of-3 FT), one rebound, four assists, one steal, three turnovers in 39 minutes

Quick Hitters:


 Crisler Center was perhaps as loud as it has ever been today with 3,000 students in the house and a crowd that had less green in this rivalry game than ever before. Jordan Morgan appreciated the boost, saying, “Our fans were great…we gotta give them a lot of credit. They made it a great atmosphere to play in, and I’m sure they made a huge difference in the outcome today.”

 For the fifth consecutive year, Michigan’s Maize Rage teamed up with the Dance Team to put on the show dubbed “Dance Rage.” While Dance Rage previously took place as the main halftime attraction, the entertainment has disappointingly been moved to a timeout in the second half for the past three seasons. Today’s halftime show instead was a no-name magician who received very little attention.

Final Game Stats
# Name FG-FGA 3FG-3FGA FT-FTA OR DR TOT PF TP A TO BLK S MIN
01 Glenn Robinson III* 6-12 0-3 3-7 2 3 5 1 15 1 0 0 0 38
10 Derrick Walton Jr.* 1-5 1-3 2-2 1 3 4 3 5 3 0 0 2 28
11 Nik Stauskas* 9-13 3-5 4-6 0 3 3 0 25 5 2 0 0 37
52 Jordan Morgan* 1-2 0-0 2-2 0 2 2 4 4 0 0 0 0 22
23 Caris LeVert* 7-15 3-5 6-8 0 3 3 2 23 3 0 0 1 39
02 Spike Albrecht 1-3 1-1 0-0 0 1 1 1 3 2 0 0 1 13
15 Jon Horford 1-1 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 5 2 1 0 0 0 16
21 Zak Irvin 1-3 0-2 0-0 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 0 1 17
Totals 27-54 8-19 17-25 7 17 24 18 79 15 3 0 5 200
Michigan State 26-48 9-23 9-15 7 24 31 23 70 13 13 2 1 200
Full Stats

Sam’s 3 thoughts: Michigan State

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014


Michigan-MSU header

There are a few games in every college basketball team’s season that are remembered years down the line. Oftentimes those aren’t the blowout wins or brutal losses that set off fan firestorms in their immediate aftermath, but rather the close, season-defining wins and losses over rivals – games that determine conference finishes or tournament outcomes.

For Michigan fans, games like the home Indiana loss of last year and the Evan Turner buzzer-beater in the 2011 Big Ten Tournament still sting, while the wins against Duke and UCLA in 2008 and the nail-biter triumph over Michigan State last season will live on in Wolverine lore forever.

Tomorrow’s showdown with the Spartans (12 p.m. on CBS) has all the makings of one of those matchups that will be remembered for years to come. Not only are the teams fierce rivals who are competing for the upper hand in the Big Ten title race this season. Michigan and Michigan State are also fighting for tournament seeding, rivalry respect on the level of Duke-North Carolina, and perhaps more than anything else, pure bragging rights.

The Wolverines, winners of five of the last seven against the Spartans, will look to sweep the season series while also battling to protect home court and to avenge their loss to Wisconsin just one week ago. Here’s what they will have to do to avoid back-to-back losses for just the third time in three years.

Contain Payne: In Michigan’s 80-75 victory at Michigan State almost exactly one month ago, Spartan senior star Adreian Payne was unable to play due to the plantar fasciitis he’s been dealing with nearly all year long. Tomorrow, that won’t be the case. After sitting out for seven straight games in January and early February, Payne has come back with a vengeance in the twilight of his college career without missing a beat.

Adreian Payne missed the first meeting but has averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in five games since (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

Adreian Payne missed the first meeting but has averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in five games since (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

In Michigan State’s last five game, of which the Spartans have won only three times, Payne has been dominant both inside and out, averaging 18 points and nearly seven boards while making 54.2 percent of his shots from the floor and 44.4 percent of his triples (8-of-18). What’s even more impressive is the fact that Payne has done all this damage while playing fewer than 27 minutes per game in that stretch.

For Michigan, team defense as a whole has been a concern lately, but their collapse inside against Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky was particularly eye-opening. Kaminsky, a seven-footer with range stretching beyond the three-point line, is very similar to Payne but with less athleticism, a little more height, and a much slower first step. He simply pounded Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford like pieces of meat to the tune of 25 points (11-of-16 FG, 1-of-2 3PT) and 11 rebounds a week ago.

Last year at Crisler, Payne was a terror himself, amassing 17 points (6-of-11 FG, 2-of-5 3PT) and 11 rebounds in Michigan’s one-point win.

The problem for the Wolverines, and for just about every team facing off with Payne and his Spartans for that matter, is essentially that there is no clear idea of who should defend the beast inside. Morgan gives up a lot of size to Payne and was exposed big time on the dribble-drive against Kaminsky, while Horford lacks the strength to consistently body up Payne in the paint and is not quick laterally either. Glenn Robinson III has the athleticism to compete with Payne, but he’s also shown a complete inability to defend any post-up attempt in the past and would stand no chance in a one-on-one matchup.

I think John Beilein will go with a strategy we’ve often seen in the past against dominant big men like Jared Sullinger and Payne himself by doubling down any time Payne touches the ball inside, rotating the defense, and hoping he can’t find the open man on the perimeter. On the outside, Morgan and Horford need to do their best to hedge screens and quickly get back to Payne or else simply hope that his shot isn’t on.

With no Branden Dawson to worry about again tomorrow, Michigan needs to focus all of their rebounding efforts on keeping Payne off the glass and preventing his rim-shaking put-backs.

Get Stauskas Going: Nik Stauskas, Michigan’s offensive superstar who was shooting up NBA draft boards after scoring double-digit points in 12 straight contests in December and January, has been disappearing far too often lately as teams continue to try to limit his touches. Rather than getting more active and running his man around screens every time down the court, however, Stauskas has largely been content to camp out in his corner starting spot while watching his teammates go to work. That strategy is going to need some re-thinking if the Maize and Blue are to pull out a win tomorrow.

Nik Stauskas has been held to just 11.2 points in his last four games (MGoBlue.com)

Nik Stauskas has been held to just 11.2 points in his last four games, but scored 19 in the first meeting with MSU (MGoBlue.com)

Since putting on a show with 19 points on some hot three-point shooting over Michigan State (5-of-6 from deep, 2-of-6 inside the arc), Michigan’s Canadian marksman has struggled mightily on offense while becoming more and more the focal point of opponents’ defensive plans, averaging just 11.2 points (versus 16.7 ppg on the season), 2.3 assists (3.5), and 3.2 turnovers (1.9) per game over the Wolverines’ past six games. In that same stretch of games, Stauskas has also shot the ball less (7.5 FGA versus 10 on the season and 3.2 3PTA vs. 5.2) and worse (46.2 percent on twos vs. 52.6 percent on the season and 31.6 percent on threes vs. 44 percent).

In Stauskas’s stead, Caris LeVert has had to pick up the slack and lead the team, but Michigan is just not the same offensive juggernaut without Stauskas. In fact, while Michigan has gone 2-2 over their last four games, Stauskas has been the team’s fourth leading scorer behind LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, and Zak Irvin. Tomorrow, Michigan needs to get Stauskas the ball in good spots early on to give him open shots from outside or a nice lane from which to drive and dish, score, or get fouled. If Stauskas reaches his season average of 16 and gets to the line 10 times tomorrow afternoon, I think Michigan wins.

Win the Fast Break: Under Tom Izzo, Michigan State has always been a team that likes to dictate tempo, and not surprisingly, Michigan does the same very well with John Beilein’s philosophies, but the teams play a little bit differently. The Spartans are generally more content to play a faster game and run off of makes or misses while Michigan generally likes to slow things down defensively and run only off turnovers and missed shots.

Recently, Michigan’s turnover woes have led to losing the fast break battle, and if the same happens tomorrow, Michigan State will quite literally run away with things. Two weekends ago against Iowa, Michigan allowed 17 fast-break points on 12 turnovers. Overall, the Wolverines have coughed it up at least nine times in nine straight games.

Look for Michigan to be particularly careful with the ball tomorrow and in getting back in transition against Spartan guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris and big men Payne and Matt Costello. The Wolverines can win making shots and letting Michigan State collect defensive rebounds off their misses, but they’ll be hard-pressed to pull out a victory with the Spartans effectively getting into the lane on the run.

Prediction: This Big Ten season has seen more road wins across the conference than any that I can remember, but Michigan has generally been an excellent home team under Beilein and has won three straight in Ann Arbor over their in-state foe. As previously mentioned, Michigan has lost back-to-back games only twice in the last three seasons (including this one), but has not lost back-to-back home games since January of 2011. I expect that trend to continue tomorrow as Stauskas regains his form and Glenn Robinson III is the surprise star against a Michigan State squad that doesn’t have anyone to match up with him defensively. Michigan wins and takes control of the Big Ten once again with a 77-71 win.

Inside the Numbers: The golden age of the Michigan – Michigan State rivalry

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014


Burke steal

Michigan does not like Michigan State. Michigan State does not like Michigan.

This is no secret.

Those who have participated in the heated rivalry on the hardwood in recent years have made that very clear. Former U-M point guard Darius Morris told former MSU guard Kalin Lucas to “get the f*** off my court” after a Michigan win in Ann Arbor three years ago. U-M guard Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd moments after the Wolverines toppled MSU just last month. And MSU head coach Tom Izzo summed it up best in January 2012 when he told the press, “Do I like [Michigan]? Not one bit. I don’t like anything about Michigan and they don’t like anything about us, and that’s the way it should be.”

However, do not let the conduct that transpires before the tip and after the buzzer fool you into thinking that this intrastate rivalry has always been one of the best. For a rivalry to be at its best, both rivals must frequently sport top-notch teams, competing against one another with championships at stake year after year. This is not an apt description of the Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry prior to 2012.

This is never clearer than when one realizes how infrequently both Michigan and Michigan State have been ranked in the Associated Press poll in their matchups. Generally, when a team is ranked in the AP poll, it is one of the best teams in the nation. Therefore, rivalry games are more significant and anticipated when both rivals are ranked in the AP poll. Yet, of the 113 meetings between U-M and MSU from January 20, 1949 — the date the first AP poll was released — to the end of the 2011 season, both the Wolverines and Spartans were ranked in only six.

Michigan-Michigan State Games With Both Teams Ranked in AP Poll – Prior to 2012

Date

Home Team

Road Team

Winner

Feb. 20, 1986

#7 Michigan

#19 Michigan State

MSU, 74-59

Mar. 1, 1990

#14 Michigan State

#8 Michigan

MSU, 78-70

Jan. 29, 1992

#13 Michigan State

#15 Michigan

U-M, 89-79 (OT)

Feb. 15, 1992

#17 Michigan

#12 Michigan State

MSU, 70-59

Feb. 2, 1993

#25 Michigan State

#7 Michigan

U-M, 73-69

Feb. 17, 1998

#14 Michigan State

#22 Michigan

MSU, 80-75

It was not until 37 years after the very first AP poll was released when Michigan and Michigan State squared off against each other as ranked teams. U-M and MSU went toe-to-toe 64 times during that prolonged span. Although the AP poll did not expand to 25 teams until the 1990 season, this is an extraordinary amount of basketball played between two teams without one marquee matchup.

It does not mean, however, that both U-M and MSU were bottom-dwellers throughout those four decades. Both programs had fantastic seasons during those years. The Wolverines were in the AP Top 10 for eight of their 64 contests with MSU. The Spartans were in the AP Top 10 for five of those 64 meetings. It just so happened that neither school managed to be one of the best in college hoops the same season as the other.

Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd after Michigan's 80-75 win on Jan. 25

Nik Stauskas blew kisses to the Breslin Center crowd after Michigan’s 80-75 win on Jan. 25

This changed slightly after U-M and MSU’s first matchup in which both teams were ranked in 1986. Over the course of the next dozen years, Michigan and Michigan State went head to head five more times as members of the AP Top 25. The rivalry hit its high note when U-M’s touted “Fab Five” recruiting class stepped on campus. Both teams were ranked for the Fab Five’s first three showdowns with the Spartans in 1992 and 1993. It seemed like the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was on the verge of something special.

But it did not materialize. By the end of the century, because of the sanctions imposed due to the Ed Martin scandal, Michigan basketball was a shell of its former self and fell off the proverbial map. From 1999 to 2011, U-M and MSU faced off 22 times. Michigan was not ranked once in any of those contests. As a result, perception of the rivalry suffered, having little appeal outside the footprint of the Big Ten. The rivalry seemed destined to be forever overshadowed by the likes of Duke-North Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville, and Syracuse-Georgetown.

Rankings are not the only metric that tells this same tale. The Big Ten standings tell it, too. Rivalries are at their best when both rivals are in the hunt for conference and national titles. More is on the line. Win, and you celebrate a championship at the expense of the team you most like to see miserable. Lose, and you suffer, wondering how your team came so far only to allow the team you like the least snatch success from your team’s grasp.

The Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry is perfect example. Fans of U-M, OSU, and college football in general consider this prestigious rivalry’s best era to be the Ten Year War. Why? Because the outcome of “The Game” crowned the Big Ten champion nine of those 10 seasons. Until 2012, the Michigan-Michigan State hoops rivalry had nothing resembling that sort of an era.

Seasons In Which Both Michigan and Michigan State Finished in Big Ten Top 3 – Prior to 2012

Season

Michigan’s Finish (Record)

MSU’s Finish (Record)

1959

t-2nd (8-6)

1st (12-2)

1966

1st (11-3)

2nd (10-4)

1986

1st (14-4)

3rd (12-6)

1990

3rd (12-6)

1st (15-3)

1992

t-3rd (11-7)

t-3rd (11-7)

1995

3rd (11-7)

2nd (14-4)

2003

t-3rd (10-6)

t-3rd (10-6)

Michigan State basketball joined the Big Ten in 1951. In the 61 seasons played from 1951 to 2011, Michigan and Michigan State both finished in the top three in the Big Ten standings only seven times. That is it. To contrast, in 58 seasons of ACC basketball from 1954 to 2011, Duke and North Carolina both finished no worse than third place in their conference 34 times. Additionally, prior to 2012, U-M and MSU secured the two best spots in the conference standings in the same season just twice. The more recent of these two occurrences happened almost a half-century ago. No matter how one tries to break these numbers down, the same conclusion will be reached: the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry was irrelevant nationally and not very prestigious.

However, the key word in that last sentence is “was.” No longer can anyone make the claim that this rivalry is not prestigious. It has changed dramatically in the past three seasons. Izzo has continued to lead MSU to successful season after successful season, but Michigan finally burst back onto the national scene under the direction of head coach John Beilein. In just a few short years, the Wolverines have transformed from a program trying to eke its way into the NCAA Tournament into a program that won a share of a conference title in 2012 and appeared in the national championship game the following season.

As a result, for the first time in the history of the rivalry, Michigan and Michigan State both have been two of the best college basketball programs. Want proof? Let’s once again look at U-M and MSU’s ranks in the AP poll when they compete against one another, but only at their ranked matchups since 2011 this time.

Michigan-Michigan State Games With Both Teams Ranked in AP Poll – Since 2011

Date

Home Team

Road Team

Winner

Jan. 17, 2012

#20 Michigan

#9 Michigan State

U-M, 60-59

Feb. 5, 2012

#9 Michigan State

#23 Michigan

MSU, 64-54

Feb. 12, 2013

#8 Michigan State

#4 Michigan

MSU, 75-52

Mar. 3, 2013

#4 Michigan

#9 Michigan State

U-M, 58-57

Jan. 25, 2014

#3 Michigan State

#21 Michigan

U-M, 80-75

In the past three seasons, all five games between the Wolverines and the Spartans have featured two teams ranked in the AP Top 25. In fact, U-M and MSU both were ranked in the AP Top 10 for two of those for the first time in the rivalry’s history. Do not forget that the Wolverines and Spartans both were ranked in only six games played against each other from 1949 to 2011. With MSU at No. 13 and U-M at No. 20 in this week’s AP poll, they will do it for the sixth straight meeting this Sunday at the Crisler Center. Simply, the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry has never been better.

This is why this Sunday’s showdown in Ann Arbor between Michigan and Michigan State will be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry. Sounds crazy, but it is not. The fans agree with this notion, too. The average price on the secondary market for this week’s game is $269, which is the highest for any Michigan basketball home game. Ever. And here is why:

Beilein and Izzo (Tony Ding, AP)

When Beilein and Izzo square off on Sunday it will be the biggest game in the history of the rivalry (Tony Ding, AP)

Currently, Michigan and Michigan State are tied atop the Big Ten standings with 10-3 records, sitting 1.5 games ahead of third-place Iowa. Given Iowa’s difficult remaining schedule, there is only an outside shot that the Hawkeyes make a push for the Big Ten championship, so this is very likely a two-horse race between the two hated rivals.

But this is the biggest game in the rivalry because never before have Michigan and Michigan State been the two clear leaders in the Big Ten race, within one game of each other, this late in conference play with a meeting on the horizon. Only three times before have both Michigan and Michigan State finished in the top two of the Big Ten. In 1959, the Spartans were the runaway champion, besting second-place Michigan by four games. In 1966, the Wolverines clinched the title before their only meeting with MSU in the finale. And, in 2012, U-M shared the crown with Michigan State and Ohio State only because MSU blew a two-game lead in the final week.

This is different. This game will have more of a combined impact on these two programs’ championship hopes than any prior meeting between the two rivals. Because MSU faces Purdue tomorrow, while U-M has a midweek bye, the Spartans will either be a half-game ahead or behind U-M come Sunday. Therefore, not only will the winner on Sunday be in sole possession of first place, the winner also may have a 1.5-game cushion with no more than four games remaining. The winner between Michigan and Michigan State — two rivals in the midst of the best stretch of their rivalry’s history — will be propelled into the driver seat in this Big Ten race and may never look back.

So this Sunday, if Stauskas starts chirping towards the Michigan State bench or the Spartans start slapping the floor on every defensive possession, know that they are no longer doing it just because they are rivals 64 miles apart that do not like each other. They are doing it because they know that their regular-season goal — to win the Big Ten championship — is on the line and likely will be decided by the game’s outcome. And that is wonderful, albeit heart-wrenching, feeling because it means that Michigan-Michigan State basketball rivalry is finally where it belongs: at the top.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 6 – Friday edition

Friday, February 14th, 2014


1. Michigan (18-6, 10-2)  Even
Last week: Feb. 5 W vs Nebraska 79-50, Feb. 8 L at Iowa 67-85
This week: Tuesday W at #22 Ohio State 70-60, Sunday vs #21 Wisconsin 1pm CBS

Michigan needed to stop the bleeding after a drubbing in Iowa resulted in its second loss in three games. The team that won 10 games in a row showed up in the second half in Columbus, leading Michigan to its first win there since 2003 and putting the Wolverines back atop the Big Ten standings.

2. Michigan State (21-4, 10-2) • Even
Last week: Feb. 6 W vs Penn State 82-67, Feb. 9 L at Wisconsin 58-60
This week: Thursday W vs Northwestern 85-70, Sunday vs Nebraska 3pm

The Spartans are mired in a tough stretch in which they had lost three of their  last five games. Last night’s win over Northwestern and upcoming games against Nebraska and Purdue should provide an opportunity to get back on track before the big showdown in Ann Arbor on February 23.

3. Wisconsin (20-5, 7-5) • Up 7
Last week: Feb. 4 W at Illinois 75-63, Feb. 9 W vs #9 Michigan State 60-58
This week: Thursday W vs Minnesota 78-70, Sunday at #15 Michigan 1pm CBS

Although a win over Illinois ended a streak of five losses in six games for the Badgers, beating first-place Michigan State hinted at a possible return of the Wisconsin that started the season ranked in the top 10.

4. Iowa (18-6, 7-4) • Even
Last week: Feb. 4 L vs Ohio State 69-76, Feb. 8 W vs #10 Michigan 85-67
This week: Saturday at Penn State 1pm ESPNU

In its last six games, Iowa has rotated between wins and losses, making it difficult to gain any ground in the Big Ten standings. Its inconsistency was nowhere to be found on Saturday, though, as it dominated Michigan on national television.

5. Nebraska (13-10, 5-6) • Even
Last week: Feb. 5 L at #10 Michigan 50-79, Feb. 8 W at Northwestern 53-49
This week: Wednesday W vs Illinois 67-58, Sunday at #9 Michigan State 3pm BTN

Tim Miles’s team finally picked up a road win last Saturday with a win over the streaking Wildcats in Evanston. Nebraska continues to protect its home court, moving to 11-1 with its second straight win on Wednesday night.

6. Ohio State (19-6, 6-6) • Up 2
Last week: Feb. 4 W at #17 Iowa 76-69, Feb. 8 W vs Purdue 67-49
This week: Tuesday L to #15 Michigan 60-70, Saturday at Illinois 8pm BTN

Just when Aaron Craft and his crew began to look like the preseason top 10 team they were four months ago, Michigan went into Columbus and won for the first time since 2003. Ohio State had won three games before the loss to Michigan, and the schedule offers an opportunity to build another winning streak into March.

7. Northwestern (12-13, 5-7) • Down 4
Last week: Feb. 8 L vs Nebraska 49-53
This week: Thursday L at #9 Michigan State 70-85, Sunday vs Minnesota 6pm BTN

Northwestern’s magical stretch that brought it as high as fourth in the Big Ten came to an abrupt halt Saturday when it became the first team to lose to Nebraska at home this season. An extremely busy week lies ahead for Chris Collins’s crew, as it will host Minnesota in between trips to East Lansing and Columbus.

8. Penn State (13-12, 4-8) • Down 2
Last week: Feb. 6 L at #9 Michigan State 82-67, Feb. 9 L vs Illinois 55-60
This week: Wednesday W at Indiana 66-65, Saturday vs #16 Iowa 1pm ESPNU

The Big Ten’s last place team shook up the conference with a three-game winning streak last week, but followed up by losing twice in four days. Penn State got back on track Wednesday night by pulling off a shocker on the road against Indiana.

9. Minnesota (16-9, 5-7) • Even
Last week: Feb. 5 L at Purdue 74-77 3OT, Feb. 8 W vs Indiana 66-60
This week: Thursday L at #21 Wisconsin 70-78, Sunday at Northwestern 6pm BTN

An outstanding non-conference performance by Minnesota evaporated during Big Ten play, in which it has lost five of its last eight. Before beating Indiana last Saturday, Richard Pitino’s team dropped three straight against teams with losing conference records.

10. Indiana (14-10, 4-7) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 8 L at Minnesota 60-66
This week: Wednesday L to Penn State 65-66, Saturday at Purdue 4pm ESPN

Indiana got the enormous win it needed to turn its season around when it handed the first-place Wolverines their first conference loss. Unfortunately for this team, the next two games featured losses to Minnesota and Penn State, dropping the Hoosiers right back to where they were.

11. Purdue (14-10, 4-7) • Even
Last week: Feb. 5 W vs Minnesota 77-75 3OT, Feb. 8 L at Ohio State 49-67
This week: Saturday vs Indiana 4pm ESPN

Fans in West Lafayette enjoyed a thrilling triple-overtime win over Minnesota last week, but Purdue’s struggles leave little reason for hope as the Big Ten season nears a close.

12. Illinois (14-11, 3-9) • Even
Last week: Feb. 4 L vs Wisconsin 63-75, Feb. 9 W at Penn State 60-55
This week: Wednesday L at Nebraska 58-67, Saturday vs #22 Ohio State 8pm BTN

In its last 10 games, Illinois does boast a win over 11th-place Penn State, but the other nine games are all loses. Chances of making the NCAA Tournament in 2014 have evaporated for this young team.