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Posts Tagged ‘Tom Izzo’

2014 Big Ten basketball preview: Part two

Thursday, October 30th, 2014


2014-15 B1G BBall Preview-Part2

Over the past few years an incredible change has passed over the Midwest, which was long praised for elite football programs like Michigan and Ohio State and largely uncompetitive on the hardwood with Michigan State taking the cake nearly every season. Now, the sports landscape has been turned on its head, as Big Ten football struggles to keep three teams ranked in the Top 25 while the basketball conference continues to solidify itself as the best in the nation.

Last season was another great campaign for the conference as a whole. Wisconsin fought its way through a tough West regional to reach the Final Four, while Michigan and Michigan State were just seconds away from doing the same, eventually losing to the two National Championship competitors. Ohio State, Iowa and Nebraska were also selected for the Big Dance, giving the Big Ten six teams that made the cut. Minnesota also had a successful postseason, winning the NIT championship.

The Big Ten has climbed to the top of the basketball world by featuring a deep slate of teams led by a few legitimate Final Four contenders. This season will be no different, even as the conference welcomes two new teams that have struggled in recent years.

Below is part two of our Big Ten preview. Although there are no divisions in basketball, we split up our preview into the Big Ten West and Big Ten East divisions for the sake of organization. Part one (the Big Ten West) was posted earlier this week.

Note: In the 2013 Stats & Rankings tables for each team, the darker the shade of maize, the better that team was in that category; the darker the shade of blue, the worse that team was in that category.

Indiana Hoosiers Indiana logo
Head Coach: Tom Crean (7th season)
2013-14: 17-15, T-8th in Big Ten (7-11), No postseason
Returning starters: 3 (Troy Williams, Stanford Robinson, Yogi Ferrell)
Recruiting class rank: #17 (James Blackmon, Jr., Robert Johnson, Emmitt Holt, Max Hoetzel, Tim Priller, Jeremiah April)
Key non-conference games: Dec 2 vs Pitt, Dec 9 vs Louisville, Dec 20 vs Butler, Dec 27 vs Georgetown

Indiana was surprisingly mediocre last season coming off two straight 27-plus win seasons under Tom Crean. As a sophomore, Yogi Ferrell took over the team and averaged 17.3 points and 3.9 assists per game to lead the offense. Unfortunately for the Hoosiers, dominant freshman Noah Vonleh declared for the NBA draft and senior leader Will Sheehey graduated, leaving Ferrell without much help on the offensive side of the ball.

As Ferrell continues to lead Indiana as a junior, the team will have to solidify itself on defense without that dominating presence inside. The roster is small and turnover-prone, which is a formula for disaster in a difficult Big Ten conference. If strong defensive teams lock up on Ferrell and force the rest of this group to make plays, it could be another empty March for the Hoosiers.

Player to watch: Yogi Ferrell. This guy is really fun to watch, as he is quick and creative off the dribble but also accurate from the outside. As one of the most dangerous offensive players in the Big Ten, Ferrell can explode and give Indiana a chance to win on any given night.

Best-case scenario: Indiana sees even more growth from Ferrell and freshmen James Blackmon and Robert Johnson make a quick transition to the college game, landing Indiana a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Worst-case scenario: Last year’s mess leaks over into this season and Indiana hovers around .500 all season, giving the players plenty of time to study for exams in March.

Projected finish: 9th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 72.2 5 108
Scoring Defense 67.6 8 96
Field Goal Percentage .448 6 132
Field Goal Percentage Defense .412 4 59
3-pt FG Percentage .344 6 173
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .299 2 8
Free Throw Percentage .730 7 66
Rebounding Margin +7.6 1
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.5/15.1 = 0.8 12 321
Steals 5.9 7 179
Blocked Shots 4.3 6 82

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Maryland Terrapins Maryland logo
Head Coach: Mark Turgeon (4th season)
2013-14: 17-15, 9th in ACC (9-9), No postseason
Returning starters: 1 (Evan Smotrycz)
Recruiting class rank: #14 (Melo Trimble, Dion Wiley, Jared Nickens, Michal Cekovsky)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Virginia, Dec 21 at Oklahoma State

Maryland will make the move to the Big Ten and find itself in uncharted territory as a grueling conference schedule offers challenge after challenge during the winter months. Despite battling to stay relevant over the past few seasons, Maryland brought in a top 10 recruiting class to counter its first Big Ten slate, including Melo Trumble, who will join the team’s top returner Dez Wells in the backcourt.

Though the Big Ten is much deeper than the ACC, Maryland is no stranger to tough games and atmospheres. The Terrapins lost to eventual champion UCONN by just one point last season and even knocked off the conference champion Virginia Cavaliers.

Player to watch: Evan Smotrycz. Michigan fans will remember the curly-haired senior well from his two seasons in Ann Arbor. The 6 foot 9 forward averaged 11 points and six rebounds per game in 2013-14, both better than his totals in the Big Ten. He will miss at least the first month of the season after breaking his foot in October.

Best-case scenario: Maryland surprises the Big Ten and finishes in the top half of the league behind elite backcourt play from Wells and Trumble. Finishing with just over 20 wins earns the Terps a late invite to the Dace.

Worst-case scenario: The Big Ten proves to be much more difficult than the ACC and Maryland wears down early in 2015, finishing with a losing conference record and missing the tournament once again.

Projected finish: 11th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank* National Rank
Scoring Offense 70.9 8 157
Scoring Defense 67.7 9 103
Field Goal Percentage .430 8 218
Field Goal Percentage Defense .417 7 78
3-pt FG Percentage .342 7 172
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .341 9 154
Free Throw Percentage .679 12 253
Rebounding Margin +3.3 5
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.7/12.8 = 0.9 11 243
Steals 6.3 6 138
Blocked Shots 4.3 6 81
*Where Maryland’s stats would have ranked in the Big Ten last season

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Michigan Wolverines Block M - Maize
Head Coach: John Beilein (8th season)
2013-14: 28-9, 1st in Big Ten (15-3), Elite Eight NCAA Tournament
Returning Starters: 2 (Caris LeVert, Derrick Walton, Jr.)
Recruiting class rank: #28 (Kameron Chatman, D.J. Wilson, Ricky Doyle, Aubrey Dawkins, Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Austin Hatch)
Key non-conference games: Nov 24 vs Oregon, Dec 2 vs Syracuse, Dec 13 at Arizona, Dec 20 vs SMU

John Beilein has certainly turned the Michigan basketball program around. After leading his team to the National Championship game in 2013 and losing stars Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. to the first round of the NBA draft, Beilein simply reloaded and came within one miracle heavy by Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison of returning to the Final Four. Now the team is hoping to recover from major losses once again as Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III left for the NBA, Jordan Morgan graduated and Jon Horford transferred to Florida for his final year of eligibility.

It’s no secret that Beilein needs to continue developing his players to maintain Michigan’s recent success. Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton, Jr. weren’t the most highly-rated recruits, but they will be asked to lead the offense from the backcourt this season after shouldering a big load last year. LeVert, who was named to the 2014-15 preseason All-Big Ten team, set the precedent for sophomore Zak Irvin, who is the popular choice for Michigan’s third straight breakout star.

As the former Mr. Basketball in Indiana, Irvin should welcome lofty expectations. He gave the offense a shot in the arm in a lesser role last season, and will hope to become a more versatile scorer as a starter, much like Stauskas and LeVert did last year.

Michigan also brings in a trio of talented freshmen in D.J. Wilson, Kameron Chatman and, perhaps most importantly, Ricky Doyle. While Wilson and Chatman figure to join a deep rotation of talented guards, Doyle will join redshirt freshman Mark Donnel as the top options at center for Michigan. The two freshmen stand at just 6 foot 9, so Michigan will have to hide that weakness with another elite offensive season.

Player to watch: Derrick Walton. Michigan figures to get great production from the wings while struggling down low because of a size disadvantage. If Walton can build off of an impressive freshman season, he could give Michigan enough of a backcourt to make another run at the Big Ten

Best-case scenario: John Beilein does it again, and the revamped Wolverines improve throughout the nonconference season and emerge as one of the top teams in the Big Ten. After a top-3 finish in the conference, Michigan enters March with a return to the Final Four in mind.

Worst-case scenario: The exodus of centers from last season bites Michigan, and the Big Ten exposes a lack of size and experience in the paint. Michigan finishes the conference season in the middle of the pack and approaches Selection Sunday with a nervous twinge of doubt about their status.

Projected finish: 3rd

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 73.9 3 70
Scoring Defense 65.1 5 48
Field Goal Percentage .477 1 18
Field Goal Percentage Defense .445 12 196
3-pt FG Percentage .402 1 4
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .318 6 46
Free Throw Percentage .763 1 10
Rebounding Margin +0.2 10
Assist/Turnover Ratio 14.2/9.3 = 1.5 2 7
Steals 5.2 9 273
Blocked Shots 2.4 12 301

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Michigan State Spartans MichiganStateLogo
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (20th season)
2013-14: 29-9, T-2nd in Big Ten (12-6), Elite Eight NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 2 (Denzel Valentine, Branden Dawson)
Recruiting class rank: #51 (Lourawls Nairn, Jr., Javon Bess, Marvin Clark)
Key non-conference games: Nov 18 vs Duke, Dec 3 at ND

Michigan State battled through some regular-season adversity to emerge as one of the favorites to reach the Final Four last March, but fell short when eventual champion UCONN sent the Spartans home. In the following weeks, head coach Tom Izzo said goodbye to his three top players: Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling.

This season, a variety of role players will be asked to fill the void left by those starters, as the incoming freshmen are far from elite. Branden Dawson will be asked to finally embrace his full potential and anchor the starting lineup alongside streaky Denzel Valentine. Travis Trice and Matt Costello will be asked to step into bigger roles this season and give the Spartans a chance to contend for another Big Ten title.

Izzo’s teams often start slowly during the nonconference season, but they will always improve enough to offer a challenge as the calendar turns to March. With all the new faces in East Lansing, this team will likely follow that same script.

Player to watch: Branden Dawson. Will Dawson finally turn the corner and become the dominant inside presence Izzo recruited him to be? He’s no longer in the (exceptionally large) shadows of Derrick Nix or Payne, which means this is his team now.

Best-case scenario: Though this group may not be one of Izzo’s more talented teams, the best-case scenario for Michigan State is always to be in contention for a Final Four run. If Dawson has an All-Big Ten season and the role players progress significantly, no coach in the country will want to match up with MSU in the NCAA Tournament.

Worst-case scenario: A loaded Big Ten proves difficult for the Spartans during a transition year and the team lands somewhere around .500 in the conference and barely squeezes into the Big Dance.

Projected finish: 5th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 75.5 2 49
Scoring Defense 65.6 7 57
Field Goal Percentage .474 2 21
Field Goal Percentage Defense .397 1 18
3-pt FG Percentage .392 2 16
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .332 8 103
Free Throw Percentage .707 9 151
Rebounding Margin +5.1 3
Assist/Turnover Ratio 16.8/11.6 = 1.4 3 18
Steals 6.8 5 85
Blocked Shots 4.6 4 63

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Ohio State Buckeyes Ohio State logo new
Head Coach: Thad Matta (11th season)
2013-14: 25-10, 5th in Big Ten (10-8), Second Round NCAA Tournament
Returning starters: 2 (Amir Williams, Sam Thompson)
Recruiting class rank: #8 (D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Dave Bell)
Key non-conference games: Nov 18 vs Marquette, Dec 2 at Louisville, Dec 20 vs UNC

Remember when Ohio State was 15-0 last season and ranked in the top five? Not many do, because the Buckeyes finished the season 10-10 with a loss to 2014’s Cinderella, the Dayton Flyers, in their first tournament game. Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. graduated, and LaQuinton Ross signed with a team in Italy, so things can only get worse for Than Matta’s group, right?

Wrong. Matta countered the loss of three starters by welcoming a top-five recruiting class into Columbus for the 2014-15 season. Top-ranked shooting guard D’Angelo Russell offers a much-needed shot in the arm for what was a terrible Buckeye offense last season. Shannon Scott will take over as the defensive anchor in wake of Craft’s departure, as OSU tries to match last year’s 59.8 points allowed per game (12th in the nation).

In the paint Ohio State will rely on two potential studs to mask an otherwise thin roster. Amir Williams is a beast on the defensive end and will have to stay out of foul trouble. Anthony Lee joins the Buckeyes after transferring from Temple and will partner with Williams to compose a duo that has to grab all the rebounds for this team.

Player to watch: D’Angelo Russell. He’s the top-ranked recruit joining the Big Ten this season, and Matta has a way of getting the most out of his guards. He has to be the go-to man on offense right out of the gates.

Best-case scenario: Matta turns Russell into one of the top players in the country and pairs him with a dominant defense led by Scott and Williams to win the Big Ten and enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites to reach the Final Four.

Worse-case scenario: A talented trio of recruits suffers growing pains and fails to live up to sky-high standards in Columbus, while foul trouble exposes a thin inside presence on defense. Ohio State struggles in the conference season and finishes sixth in the Big Ten, earning a double-digit seed in the NCAA Tournament

Projected finish: 2nd

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 69.5 9 190
Scoring Defense 59.8 1 11
Field Goal Percentage .450 5 124
Field Goal Percentage Defense .406 2 34
3-pt FG Percentage .324 9 263
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .293 1 5
Free Throw Percentage .689 11 211
Rebounding Margin +0.3 9
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.0/11.3 = 1.1 6 161
Steals 7.7 1 21
Blocked Shots 4.5 5 85

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Penn State Nittany Lions Penn State Logo
Head Coach: Patrick Chambers (4th season)
2013-14: 16-18, T-10th Big Ten (6-12), CBI Quarterfinals
Returning starters: 4 (Jordan Dickerson, D.J. Newbill, Brandon Taylor, John Johnson)
Recruiting class rank: #86 (Shep Garner, Isaiah Washington, Devin Foster)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Virginia Tech

It might be another tough year for Pat Chambers and Penn State, especially now that Tim Frazier’s rein of terrorizing the Big Ten is finally over. But five of Penn State’s Big Ten losses came by five points or less last season, which means the Nittany Lions were reasonably within reach of finishing 11-7 in the nation’s top conference. That would have put PSU in fourth place with an overall record of 20-12 at the end of the regular season, a resume that almost exactly mirrors the one that put Nebraska in the NCAA Tournament.

Frazier’s departure hurts the Nittany Lions, but D.J. Newbill quietly took over much of the leadership from the senior last year, leading the team with 17.8 points per game and finishing second in rebounds, blocks and steals. Newbill won’t be alone as the team returns each of its top six scorers from last season, with the exception of Frazier.

Ross Travis and Brandon Taylor will start in the frontcourt for Chambers, who will have no shortage of veteran depth across the board.

Player to watch: Devin Foster. The junior college transfer quietly chose Penn State during the offseason and should take over as the starting point guard right off the bat. Foster averaged 12.2 points and 4.8 assists per game last season with Vincennes and gives Chambers a much-needed distributor on offense.

Best-case scenario: A host of returning players continues to improve under Chambers and Penn State wins half of its Big Ten games, threatening fellow bubble teams in the race for a NCAA Tournament bid.

Worst-case scenario: While Newbill performs much like he did last season, the loss of Frazier turns Penn State into the team it was two years ago, when its leader missed the entire season with a ruptured achilles. If so, the Nittany Lions could end up near the bottom of the league.

Projected finish: 10th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank National Rank
Scoring Offense 70.9 8 158
Scoring Defense 70.2 10 172
Field Goal Percentage .428 8 228
Field Goal Percentage Defense .414 5 63
3-pt FG Percentage .319 10 284
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .352 12 222
Free Throw Percentage .741 4 38
Rebounding Margin +0.7 6
Assist/Turnover Ratio 11.3/10.6 = 1.1 8 144
Steals 4.5 11 327
Blocked Shots 4.7 3 58

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Rutgers Scarlet Knights Rutgers logo
Head Coach: Eddie Jordan (2nd season)
2013-14: 12-21, 7th in AAC (5-13), No postseason
Returning starters: 2 (Kadeem Jack, Myles Mack)
Recruiting class rank: #66 (D.J. Foreman, Mike Williams, Ibrahima Diallo)
Key non-conference games: Dec 3 vs Duke, Dec 6 at Marquette, Dec 22 at California

Rutgers has battled controversy in its basketball program over the past couple of years, and the looming Big Ten schedule could make the winter just as ugly on the court for the Scarlett Knights. Eddie Jordan’s team failed to knock off a ranked opponent last season and now faces a conference slate that could feature as many as eight ranked teams over the course of the coming months.

Last year’s 20-loss team returns only three of the seven players that averaged more than five points per game. Luckily for Jordan, top playmakers Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack will lead the offense after averaging a combined 29.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and five assists per game last season. Jack is a slightly undersized center who will battle more physical defenses in the Big Ten, and his transition will be a major factor for Rutgers.

Player to watch: Kadeem Jack. His special 2013-14 season was masked by the team’s struggles, but the 6 foot 9 forward put up 14.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. His 68.8 percent free throw rate will be a number to watch as Big Ten centers bang with him in the paint.

Best-case scenario: Rutgers fans are treated to another version of the Mack and Jack show, carrying the team out of the Big Ten cellar in its first go-around.

Worst-case scenario: Rutgers finished 1-11 on the road last season with the lone win coming over last-place South Florida. With that in mind, Rutgers could realistically lose nearly every single Big Ten game if the players don’t make a smooth transition from the American.

Projected finish: 14th

2013 Stats & Rankings
Category Number Big Ten Rank* National Rank
Scoring Offense 71.1 8 185
Scoring Defense 76.2 13 298
Field Goal Percentage .426 11 270
Field Goal Percentage Defense .447 13 232
3-pt FG Percentage .336 7 230
3-pt FG Percentage Defense .371 13 302
Free Throw Percentage .706 10 163
Rebounding Margin -0.6 11
Assist/Turnover Ratio 12.7/12.6 = 1.0 9 194
Steals 5.8 8 209
Blocked Shots 4.2 7 114
*Where Rutgers’ stats would have ranked in the Big Ten last season

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:


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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

Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014



This week’s edition of the Big Ten power rankings features more movement than usual as the conference continues to deal surprise after surprise. With March upon us, teams that play well down the stretch often outperform teams with more impressive overall resumes in postseason tournaments.

While teams like Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa will certainly make the field of 68, playing poorly in late February and early March can really take the steam out of a potential deep run in the Big Dance. Meanwhile, teams that streak into the tournament on the final days of the season (Nebraska? Indiana?) represent extremely dangerous matchups.

So here’s how the Big Ten teams are playing with less than a week remaining before they head to Indianapolis.

1. Michigan (21-7, 13-3)  Even
Last week: Feb. 26 W at Purdue 77-76 OT, Mar. 1 W vs Minnesota 66-56
This week: Tuesday at Illinois 7pm ESPN, Saturday vs Indiana 6pm 

The in-state rival Spartans lost just before tip-off in Ann Arbor on Saturday, and after Michigan took care of Minnesota, it officially clinched at least a share of the regular season Big Ten championship. John Beilein’s surprise team can seal the title alone with a win at Illinois tonight or against Indiana on Saturday. 

2. Wisconsin (24-5, 11-5) • Even
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs Indiana 69-58, Mar. 2 W at Penn State 71-66
This week: Wednesday vs Purdue 9pm BTN, Sunday at Nebraska 7:30pm 

History shows that no matter what happens early in the season, a hot team is dangerous in March. The Badgers are red-hot heading into the final week of conference play, riding a seven-game winning streak and tied with Michigan State for second place in the Big Ten. Wisconsin could represent the most dangerous team in the conference, but clinching a share of the title gave Michigan the nod at No. 1 for now. 

3. Nebraska (17-11, 9-7) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 26 L at Illinois 49-60, Mar. 1 W vs Northwestern 54-47
This week: Wednesday at Indiana 7pm BTN, Sunday vs #9 Wisconsin 7:30pm

Despite last week’s loss to Illinois, which looks slightly less egregious after the Illini won in East Lansing on Saturday, Nebraska finds itself contending for a first-round bye in Indianapolis. Tim Miles’s team held off Northwestern on Saturday and can secure a winning conference record with a win in either of its final two games (at Indiana on Wednesday or against Wisconsin on Sunday).

4. Indiana (17-12, 7-9) • Up 4
Last week: Feb. 25 L at #14 Wisc. 58-69, Feb. 27 W vs #20 Iowa 93-86, Mar. 2 W vs #22 OSU 72-64
This week: Wednesday vs Nebraska 7pm BTN, Saturday at #12 Michigan 6pm

Don’t look now, but Indiana is making the run that Big Ten fans were waiting for. Indiana knocked off two straight top-25 teams last week to keep its dim tournament hopes alive. They may not recover from the 3-7 stretch that plagued the heart of their conference schedule, but the Hoosiers aren’t going down without a fight. It may take a win in Ann Arbor in the season finale to put Indiana over the hump.

5. Iowa (17-12, 6-10) • Up 3
Last week: Feb. 26 W vs Nebraska 60-49, Mar. 1 W at #18 Michigan State 53-46
This week: Tuesday vs #12 Michigan 7pm ESPN, Saturday at #24 Iowa 8:30pm

John Groce waited nearly two whole months of Big Ten play for his team to show some life, and although it’s likely too late to join an already-crowded NCAA Tournament bubble, Illinois played spoiler three times in the past two weeks. A win over Michigan State in East Lansing proved the most impressive feat for Illinois on the season, but beating Minnesota and Nebraska the week before was more nationally significant, as both teams have tournament hopes that hang by a thread.

6. Iowa (20-9, 9-7) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 25 L at Minnesota 89-95, Feb. 27 L at Indiana 86-93, Mar. 2 W vs Purdue 83-76
This week: Thursday at #22 Michigan State 9pm ESPN, Saturday vs Illinois 8:30pm

When both Michigan and Michigan State faltered on their home courts on Feb. 16, Iowa climbed to within one game of the conference co-leaders in the loss column. The Hawkeyes responded by losing their next three games and falling completely out of contention. After struggling to beat Purdue at home, Iowa looks to take advantage of an equally-wounded Spartan squad on Thursday.

7. Michigan State (22-7, 11-5) • Down 3
Last week: Mar. 1 L vs Illinois 46-53
This week: Thursday vs #24 Iowa 9pm ESPN, Sunday at Ohio State 4:30pm

All season long Tom Izzo stuck to the same story: when Michigan State returned all of its injured players, the miraculous turnaround would begin. Well on Saturday Adreian Payne, Keith Appling and Branden Dawson all played against Illinois and the Spartans lost on their home court, and scored just 46 points in the process. The time to start worrying about Michigan State has arrived, as it has dropped six of its last 10 games, with half of those coming at home.

8. Ohio State (22-8, 9-8) • Down 5
Last week: Feb. 27 L at Penn State 63-65, Mar. 2 L at Indiana 64-72
This week: Sunday vs #22 Michigan State 4:30pm CBS

The last time Ohio State lost to Penn State, it responded by winning six of its next seven games. This time, the Buckeyes followed up with a loss to Indiana. Unfortunately for Thad Matta’s squad, the most glaring part of the statement is that the Buckeyes have lost to the 5-11 Nittany Lions twice.

9. Minnesota (18-12, 7-10) • Down 3
Last week: Feb. 25 W vs #20 Iowa 95-89, Mar. 1 L at #16 Michigan 56-66
This week: Saturday vs Penn State 8:30pm

Minnesota nearly punched its NCAA Tournament ticket for good Saturday when a furious second-half charge brought it to within two points of first-place Michigan. The visible frustration on coach Richard Pitino’s face as the game slipped away perfectly sums up the remainder of his team’s season. Minnesota will sit and watch the rest of the bubble teams play during the week before hosting Penn State in a game that does little to strengthen its tournament resume. As Joe Lunardi’s “last team in,” this stressful week could turn Pitino’s hair a few shades closer to his father’s.

10. Penn State (14-15, 5-11) • Up 1
Last week: Feb. 27 W vs #22 Ohio State 65-63, Mar. 2 L vs #14 Wisconsin 66-71
This week: Thursday at Northwestern 7pm ESPNU, Saturday at Minnesota 8:30pm

Though Penn State is unlikely to win its final two road games and finish the season with an overall .500 record, it did complete a sweep of the preseason No. 11 Buckeyes on Thursday. After losing their first six conference games, the Nittany Lions can settle for morale victories.

11. Purdue (15-14, 5-11) • Down 1
Last week: Feb. 26 L vs #16 Michigan 76-77 OT, Mar. 2 L vs #20 Iowa 76-83
This week: Wednesday at #9 Wisconsin 9pm BTN, Sunday vs Northwestern 12pm

Purdue played both Michigan and Iowa to the end last week, but the end result was two losses, bringing the streak to a total of four. The Boilermakers’ last chance to play spoiler against a tournament team comes on Wednesday, when they travel to Madison to battle the streaking Badgers.

12. Northwestern (12-17, 5-11) • Even
Last week: Mar. 1 L at Nebraska 47-54
This week: Thursday vs Penn State 7pm ESPNU, Sunday at Purdue 12pm

Northwestern crashed and burned after a strong start to the conference season, currently riding a six-game losing streak. The Wildcats do have an opportunity to finish on a positive note as the final two regular-season games come against fellow last place Big Ten opponents.

Big Ten title race down to three

Friday, February 28th, 2014


UM crowd vs MSU 2-23-14

As February comes to a close and perhaps the greatest month in all of sports approaches, the Big Ten men’s basketball conference remains as unpredictable as ever.

Nearly two weeks ago, the would-be headliner battle between the two Michigan schools that topped the standings all season long suffered a major blow when Michigan fell to Wisconsin and Nebraska shocked Michigan State in East Lansing. Meanwhile, Nebraska put together a five-game winning streak to burst onto the NCAA bubble, only to lose to lowly Illinois and see it all slip away. Even the Iowa-Indiana game scheduled for Feb. 18 proved unpredictable, as an eight-foot beam that fell from the Assembly Hall ceiling postponed the game for over a week.

With less than two weeks remaining in the regular season, the standings usually provide a clearer picture of what the conference tournament will feature. But in the midst of such an erratic regular season, more surprises surely lie ahead, right?

Spoiler alert: This year’s Big Ten regular season championship is Michigan’s to lose.

Remaining schedule for Big Ten title contenders
Michigan Michigan State Wisconsin
Saturday vs Minnesota, 6pm BTN vs Illinois, 4pm ESPN
Sunday at Penn State, 12pm BTN
Tuesday, Mar. 4 at Illinois, 7pm ESPN
Wednesday, Mar. 5 vs Purdue, 9pm BTN
Thursday, Mar. 6 vs Iowa, 9pm ESPN
Saturday, Mar. 8 vs Indiana, 6pm ESPN
Sunday, Mar. 9 at Ohio State, 4:30pm CBS at Nebraska, 7:30pm BTN

After the victory to sweep Tom Izzo’s Spartans, Michigan firmly planted itself atop the conference with four winnable games remaining.

A trip to Purdue, which provided the most difficult remaining challenge, ended with a miracle in-bounds play for the Wolverines, who snuck out of West Lafayette unscathed, much to the chagrin of championship hopefuls Michigan State and Wisconsin.

Now the only teams standing in Michigan’s way are 5-9 Indiana, 5-10 Illinois, and a struggling Minnesota team with just two conference road wins against the league’s last place squads. John Beilein’s one-game lead should hold up and bring Michigan the long-awaited sole Big Ten title.

But outcomes rarely go according to plan in the 2013-14 edition of the Big Ten. If the first place Wolverines do drop any of their final three games, what does it mean?

Iowa’s loss at Indiana on Thursday night and Ohio State’s loss at Penn State made it mathematically official: the only two teams left to challenge Michigan are Michigan State (one game behind) and Wisconsin (two).

Michigan's last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Michigan’s last-second win over Purdue on Wednesday kept the Wolverines on track for the outright Big Ten title (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Let’s say Michigan finishes the season by winning two of its final three games. Regardless of what Wisconsin does in its final three games, the Badgers would fall short of the Wolverines, having already lost five times in the Big Ten.

A Michigan loss would, however, leave the door open for Michigan State, which could finish the season in a tie and, despite earning the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament, boast a share of the regular season championship. But the Spartans face a one of the toughest stretch runs in the Big Ten.

Michigan State played sub-.500 basketball in the month of February, losing four of seven games. The Breslin Center lost some of its esteem after Nebraska came in and bullied the Spartans last weekend, so a matchup with the desperate Hawkeyes on March 6 could challenge Izzo’s battered team. Iowa’s current three-game losing streak compliment’s Michigan State’s struggles to set up a surprisingly important matchup in the final week of the season.

Days later, the Spartans travel to Columbus in what Big Ten officials probably expected to be a conference-deciding game against Ohio State. However, a sweep at the hands of bottom-feeding Penn State dropped Thad Matta’s team well out of contention, and barring a Michigan loss, this game provides little importance in the bigger picture.

If Michigan does lose, then Ohio State earns a chance to play spoiler for Michigan State and help its hated rival from Ann Arbor. Michigan State hasn’t won back-to-back games since Jan. 21 when a win over Indiana marked its 11th straight at the time. Michigan ended that streak.

Clearly, Michigan State’s quest for a Big Ten title remains an uphill battle.

Wisconsin, unlike the Spartans, plays a much easier schedule to finish the season. Penn State and Purdue, both tied for last place, figure to provide little resistance for Wisconsin next week, setting up an important trip to Lincoln on March 9.

Nebraska’s only loss in the new Pinnacle Bank Arena came at the hands of the first-place Wolverines, who snuck out of Lincoln with a 71-70 win on Jan. 9 after the Huskers missed three layup attempts in the closing seconds. Despite the loss at Illinois on Wednesday, Nebraska’s five-game winning streak puts it tied for fourth place in the loss column in the conference. With a Big Ten record that matches Iowa’s and a nearly-perfect home resume, Nebraska provides a real challenge for Wisconsin to finish the regular season.

Even the most unpredictable conference standings take shape near the end of the season. Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin played well enough through 15 Big Ten games to stay alive into March, but Michigan represents the clear-cut favorite with less than two weeks to go.

The Wolverines may win all three remaining games and leave no room for another contender to catch up. But even if the surprising Big Ten serves up another upset, the odds lie in Michigan’s favor.

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.

Michigan hoops preview: Michigan State

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014


Michigan vs MSU banner
#20/20 Michigan (18-7, 10-3) vs #13/14 Michigan State (22-5, 11-3)
Sunday, Feb. 23 | Ann Arbor, Mich. | 12 p.m. EST | CBS
Offense
75.0 Points/gm 77.6
(647-1,352) 47.9 Field Goal % 47.0 (748-1,591)
(209-532) 39.3 3-pt FG % 38.7 (222-573)
(259-348) 76.5 Free Throw % 69.8 (376-539)
14.8 FT Made/gm 13.9
32.9 Reb/gm 38.0
14.4 Assists/gm 17.5
9.8 Turnovers/gm 11.1
Defense
64.8 Points/gm 65.3
(602-1,382) 43.6 Field Goal % 39.1 (581-1,486)
(142-426) 33.3 3-pt FG % 32.4 (180-556)
31.0 Opp. Reb/gm 33.3
5.2 Steals/gm 7.4
2.7 Blocks/gm 4.8
Individual Leaders
N. Stauskas (16.7), Caris LeVert (13.0) Points/gm Gary Harris (17.8), Adreian Payne (16.7)
Mitch McGary (8.3), Jon Horford (4.6) Reb/gm Branden Dawson (8.7), Adreian Payne (7.5)

___________________________________________________________________________________

The Big Ten race is coming down to the final stretch and what seemed like a two team race two weeks ago has brought Iowa and Wisconsin back into play. Both Michigan and Michigan State have stumbled lately, the former going 3-3 since Jan. 30 and the latter 4-4 since Jan. 25. Still, both are considered the favorites to win the conference and each has a huge opportunity to seize control on Sunday.

Michigan knocked off the Spartans in East Lansing on Jan. 25, starting MSU’s recent slide. It was Michigan’s third straight win over a top ten team in the span of eight days. But in each of the past two weekends Michigan has dropped the return trip to those teams, first an 18-point spanking at Iowa and then a 13-point loss to Wisconsin. Michigan State hopes to hand Michigan a third dose of revenge.

A Michigan win would put the Wolverines a half game ahead of Michigan State with four games remaining. None are against teams in the top half of the Big Ten standings. A loss would drop Michigan a game and a half back. MSU has just three games left, though two of them are against Iowa and Ohio State. Can Michigan pull off the win? Let’s take a look.

The Starters
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Gary Harris (G) 32.8 17.8 41.6 34.1 79.6 4.5 2.8 1.9 0.3 2.0
Adreian Payne (C) 28.3 16.7 52.9 44.1 78.8 7.5 1.5 1.9 0.9 0.6
Keith Appling (G) 32.2 13.9 45.2 39.5 69.7 3.5 4.9 2.0 0.5 1.3
Branden Dawson (F)* 28.4 10.2 60.4 00.0 57.9 8.7 1.9 1.4 0.9 1.2
Denzel Valentine (G) 29.0 8.1 39.5 32.5 73.3 6.3 3.8 1.8 0.4 1.1
Matt Costello (F) 17.7 4.7 63.6 00.0 66.7 3.7 0.9 0.6 1.4 0.3
*Injured
The Others
Minutes Points FG% 3FG% FT% Reb Ast TO Blk Stl
Travis Trice (G) 22.0 7.2 41.2 44.3 72.0 1.6 2.5 1.0 0.2 1.0
Kenny Kaminski (F) 14.2 6.0 49.4 47.6 60.0 1.7 0.5 0.3 0.4 0.4
Alvin Ellis III (G) 8.7 2.4 52.4 50.0 59.1 0.7 0.4 0.6 0.1 0.5
Alex Gauna (F) 7.7 1.8 55.3 00.0 30.8 1.3 0.2 0.3 0.3 0.1
Gavin Schilling (F) 6.6 1.5 51.6 00.0 52.9 1.8 0.3 0.5 0.2 0.0

If you’ve watched a single minute of a Michigan State game over the past few weeks you’ve undoubtedly heard all about their injury woes. Tom Izzo is shouting it from East Lansing rooftops, Spartan message boards are preemptively excusing each loss on the latest injury du jour, and in-game commentators have hammered it home as if MSU is the only team in the country facing injuries.

Is it unfortunate for those in the green and white? Sure. Just like Michigan losing Mitch McGary for the season has forced the Wolverines to adjust. But in all reality injuries are a factor every year and in this case it has allowed Izzo to develop one what should be one of the deepest teams in the country by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around.

When these two teams squared off on Jan. 25 in East Lansing, the Spartans were without big men Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson. Since then, Payne has returned to average 18 points and seven rebounds in five games, and Dawson’s status remains up in the air. He was supposed to get the pins removed from his hand on Thursday, but whether he’ll be ready to play –and if so, effectively — just three days later is anyone’s guess. It’s likely that he won’t play.

Regardless, Izzo has gotten solid contributions from three-point assassin Kenny Kaminski and up-and-comer Matt Costello in Dawson’s wake. Kaminski has hit 13-of-30 threes since the first Michigan game, averaging eight points a game in that span. Costello does a little bit of everything, following up a nine-point performance in the first meeting with a 12-point, 11-rebound game against Iowa.

But make no mistake, Michigan State is a team that goes as its guards go. Gary Harris was brilliant on Thursday night at Purdue, knocking down 6-of-9 three-pointers en route to 25 points. But in the last two losses to Nebraska and Wisconsin, Harris made just 1-of-14 from downtown and 8-of-35 overall.

Much has been made about Michigan’s inability to prevent opposing shooters from going off over the past few weeks and Harris was the one that got that trend started. He was virtually unstoppable in the first meeting, netting 27 points on 4-of-6 three-point shooting and 9-of-16 shooting overall. Michigan then allowed Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble to have similar performances. Michigan can’t afford to allow Harris to do it again.

The Schedule
Date Opponent Score
Nov. 8 McNeese State W 98-56
Nov. 12 #1 Kentucky^ W 78-74
Nov. 15 Columbia W 62-53
Nov. 18 Portland W 82-67
Nov. 22 Virginia Tech* W 96-77
Nov. 23 Oklahoma* W 87-76
Nov. 29 Mount St. Mary’s W 98-65
Dec. 4 North Carolina# L 65-79
Dec. 14 Oakland W 67-63
Dec. 17 North Florida W 78-48
Dec. 21 at Texas W 92-78
Dec. 28 New Orleans W 101-48
Dec. 31 at Penn State W 79-63
Dec. 31 Nebraska W 67-57
Jan. 4 at Indiana W 73-56
Jan. 7 #3 Ohio State W 72-68 OT
Jan. 11 Minnesota W 87-75 OT
Jan. 15 at Northwestern W 54-40
Jan. 18 at Illinois W 78-62
Jan. 12 Indiana W 71-66
Jan. 25 #21 Michigan L 75-80
Jan. 28 at #15 Iowa W 71-69 OT
Feb. 1 Georgetown L 60-64
Feb. 6 Penn State W 82-67
Feb. 9 at Wisconsin L 58-60
Feb. 13 Northwestern W 85-70
Feb. 16 Nebraska L 51-60
Feb. 20 at Purdue W 94-79
^Champions Classic, *Coaches vs. Cancer Classic, #Big Ten/ACC Challenge
The Series

Michigan holds a 96-76 all-time lead in the series and a 59-28 all-time lead in Ann Arbor. Michigan has won five of the last seven in the series including the last three in the Crisler Center. The last two have been decided by one point with Michigan winning 60-59 on Jan. 17, 2012 and 58-57 on March 3, 2013.

Notes

• Sunday’s meeting will be the sixth straight in which both teams are nationally ranked

• In his last five games, Caris LeVert has averaged a team-high 16.8 points and 5.2 rebounds, second only to Jordan Morgan’s 5.6. Zak Irvin has averaged a second-best 11.6 points during that span while shooting 48.0 percent from three-point range.

• Derrick Walton Jr. scored a career high 19 points in the first meeting against Michigan State, converting 9-of-10 free throws, including 8-of-9 down the stretch

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.

Making a statement: Michigan 80 – Michigan State 75

Sunday, January 26th, 2014


Walton win vs MSU 1-25-14(Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Having already won eight straight games, including the first six of conference play and two straight over top-10 teams, Michigan traveled to East Lansing on Saturday night playing with house money. By the time the final buzzer sounded in a quiet Breslin Center, the Wolverines had the biggest stack in the Big Ten.

After winning at No.3 Wisconsin last Saturday and then edging an up-and-coming 10th-ranked Iowa squad on Wednesday, Michigan somehow found a way to outlast a beat-up, third-ranked Michigan State team 80-75. Michigan handed the Spartans their first loss in conference play and took the outright lead in the Big Ten at 7-0.

Walton vs MSU 1-25-14

Derrick Walton Jr scored 19 points and calmly sank 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch (MGoBlue.com)

The Wolverines, who have been without preseason All-American center Mitch McGary since the start of their current winning streak, were led once again by sophomore Nik Stauskas. The Canadian sniper poured in 19 points on 5-of-6 three-point shooting and only 2-of-6 two-point shooting but didn’t reach the free-throw line for the first time all season.

In the lead-up to the monster in-state match-up, much was made about the injuries both sides have suffered, as Michigan State was without center Adriean Payne for the fifth straight game from a battle with plantar fasciitis and starting power forward Branden Dawson, who broke his hand slapping a table in frustration in the middle of last week. Michigan played without McGary. The Spartans’ starting guards, Keith Appling and Gary Harris, are also said to be banged up, but both played at least 37 minutes.

Still, both teams’ guards were simply outstanding, with Stauskas, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton battling Appling, Harris, and Denzel Valentine all night.

Michigan got off to a great start, making four straight field goal attempts to take a 10-2 lead and keep the crowd out of it for a while. The Spartans refused to lay down, though, and went on a 28-12 run themselves by forcing the Wolverines into several ill-advised two-point jumpers. Every time Michigan State made a defensive stand, the crowd roared louder and louder, urging their Spartans on to a 36-30 halftime lead on the back of Gary Harris’s 12 points.

After starting so strong, Michigan started clanking shots left and right and struggled to get the ball inside the arc at all. Repeatedly it seemed Michigan State would get away with hard defensive checking while the Wolverines could not keep their counterparts away from the hoop, letting the home team make 55 percent of their two-point attempts. Although the Wolverines trailed by just six, most pundits thought Michigan State would run away with the game in the second half.

For the longest time, those pundits looked like psychics, as Gary Harris went to work again, scoring eight points in the first 6:30 of the second stanza and leading Michigan State to a 49-41 lead. But the young and pesky Wolverines were the ones refusing to give up, continuing to claw their way back to a tie game with 7:47 left. Whatever John Beilein told his team at the break worked, as Michigan started moving the ball fluidly around the perimeter and into the paint, forcing the refs to send them to the line, where the Maize and Blue were rock solid.

Just before the game was knotted up, things started to get chippy between the two rivals when Spartan guard Russell Byrd blocked a Glenn Robinson III shot and then seemed to have a few words with him as he stood over Michigan’s sophomore star. Fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan quickly came over to sort things out as both teams mouthed off to each other and formed a little scrum. Cooler heads prevailed and the arguments were broken up, but Morgan and Appling were tagged with double technicals, giving Morgan his fourth personal foul.

On the ensuing possession, Caris LeVert hit his third and final three of the game to tie it at 53. Michigan State bounced back quickly with two free throws on four attempts from Gary Harris and a big three by freshman Alvin Ellis III – just his third triple of the season. Not to be outdone, fellow freshman Derrick Walton, Jr. knocked down his second trey of the evening to bring the score to 58 all.

Nik Stauskas made 5-of-6 three-pointers en route to a 19-point performance (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

Nik Stauskas made 5-of-6 three-pointers en route to a 19-point performance (Dustin Johnson, UMHoops)

The two teams would be tied once more at 60 until Stauskas knocked down his fifth three of the game and third straight of the second half to finally give Michigan a three-point lead with just over three minutes remaining. Following the crucial make, the Wolverines got two critical stops and a beautiful fast-break, and-one, finger-roll scoop from Walton to open the margin to six.

From there, Michigan’s free throw shooting won out despite the Spartans extending the game with 11 points in the final minute, including another three a piece from Harris and Ellis III. The Wolverines did a wonderful job of getting the ball inbounds to LeVert, Walton, and Robinson III, who combined to make 14-of-16 freebies in the final two minutes.

The stark contrast in overall play from the first half to the second half has to be credited to Beilein’s magical offensive mind. Michigan State, physically dominant and clearly the more confident team with 16 points in the paint and eight points each off turnovers and on the fast break, were simply out-played in the second half. Michigan recorded nine second-chance points and outscored the Spartans 5-0 on the fast break. Michigan also held the upper hand in rebounding, as they grabbed 36.7 percent of their own misses while holding Michigan State’s offensive rebounding mark to 29.4 percent, and won the game with their supreme 57.9 percent mark from downtown

Time and again the officials seemed to favor Michigan State, at one point even ignoring Spike Albrecht’s call for timeout and giving the ball instead to the home team on a held ball, but Michigan battled through until the officials started calling questionable fouls on both sides of the ball. Ultimately the Wolverines, with 30 tries at the line, attempted seven more free throws than the Spartans and made nine more than their rivals, but 16 of those came when Michigan State was playing catch-up late.

When the game was finished and both teams shook hands, however, the difference came down to guard play. Stauskas was the best player on the floor, making smooth, how-did-that-look-so-easy step-backs time and again because he couldn’t get into the paint, but LeVert also shook off a rough early start to score 17 huge points on 10 shots and Derrick Walton was clutch all over the place with 19 points of his own. The trio also managed to dish out 11 assists to only five turnovers (three from LeVert) and held strong defensively.

For Michigan State, Harris was phenomenal in making nine of his 16 attempts, including 4-of-6 from downtown, to record a game- and career-high 27, to go along with three steals and two assists. But his 5-of-9 mark from the free throw line will haunt him for a long time. Appling also had his moments, recording the game’s only double-double with 10 points and 10 assists, but his 3-of-11 mark from the floor and 0-of-2 three-point shooting left much to be desired.

Michigan must now be considered one of the most surprising conference leaders in recent memory and certainly has a nice path to a Big Ten championship if the Wolverines continue to play so well. With last night’s win, the Maize and Blue became the first team in nearly 30 years to knock off three straight top-10 opponents in the regular season. Now, the Wolverines face a three-game run of Purdue, at Indiana, and Nebraska that seems much more winnable than the stretch they just-conquered.

The Wolverines now must stay focused on each game at hand, but also play with a swagger in realizing that the Big Ten is theirs to lose. With a big stack in front of them at the best table in America, Michigan cannot simply protect their lead, and they almost certainly will not.

After all, Stauskas and company will not let the Wolverines do anything but keep collecting the chips, one hand at a time.

Three Stars: 

***Nik Stauskas***
19 points (7-of-12 FG, 5-of-6 3PT), four assists, two rebounds, one steal, one turnover in 38 minutes

**Gary Harris**
27 points (9-of-16 FG, 4-of-6 3PT, 5-of-9 FT), five rebounds (two offensive), two assists, three steals, one turnover in 38 minutes

*Derrick Walton, Jr.*
19 points (4-of-7 FG, 2-of-2 3PT, 9-of-10 FT), four assists, six rebounds (one offensive), one turnover in 30 minutes

Quick Hitters:

• Michigan’s second half couldn’t have gone much better, as the Wolverines made 62.5 percent of their threes and 42.9 percent of their twos after making 54.5 percent and 31.3 percent of those shots, respectively, in the first half. But perhaps the biggest moment came on the sideline. Midway through the second stanza, John Beilein got as upset at the officials as he likely ever has in his career, but Stauskas held him back just enough to save a technical foul call that could have been devastating.

 With last night’s victory at the Breslin Center, Michigan has now won five of their last seven face-offs with the Spartans and two of the last four in enemy territory. The game was also the first time in Big Ten history that two teams with records of at least 6-0 in the conference squared off, and it also marked the second time in Beilein’s career at Michigan that the Wolverines have won four straight Big Ten road games.

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 0-2 5-6 0 1 1 2 9 1 3 0 0 26
10 Derrick Walton* 4-7 2-2 9-10 1 4 5 2 19 4 1 0 0 30
11 Nik Stauskas* 7-12 5-6 0-0 0 2 2 2 19 4 1 0 1 38
52 Jordan Morgan* 1-2 0-0 2-2 4 1 5 5 4 0 0 0 0 19
23 Caris LeVert* 4-10 3-5 6-7 0 8 8 1 17 3 3 0 0 39
02 Spike Albrecht 0-2 0-1 3-5 1 2 3 0 3 1 1 0 0 10
15 Jon Horford 3-3 0-0 0-0 1 2 3 3 6 1 1 3 0 17
21 Zak Irvin 1-5 1-3 0-0 0 1 1 1 3 0 1 0 0 17
44 Max Bielfeldt 0-0 0-0 0-0 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 4
Totals 22-49 11-19 25-30 11 24 35 16 80 14 11 3 1 200
Michigan State 26-56 7-17 16-23 10 19 29 22 75 18 5 5 8 200
Full Stats