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College Basketball Pick
Here's something we've never seen before. This is the first time in this in-state rivalry that both of these teams will be ranked inside the Top 10 when playing each other. This rivalry doesn't get as much press as some of the other bigger ones around the country, but for these teams this game is as big as it gets.
Michigan has won three of the past four matchups and has been widely considered the better of the two teams for pretty much the entire season. The one thing the Wolverines lack is a big road win against an upper echelon team in the Big 10. They won at Minnesota and Illinois, but neither of those squads has a winning conference record. Their only three losses are at Ohio State, Indiana and at Wisconsin last Saturday.
The Spartans already have some nice wins over Ohio State and on the road at Wisconsin, but this one will surely mean more if they can take it. MSU is currently tied with Indiana at the top of the Big 10 while Michigan is one game back.
A win here is important, but it isn't everything as Michigan State still has to travel to Michigan and Ohio State and has to play Indiana in East Lansing. As for the Wolverines, a loss here and they are two games back, but with a very favorable schedule ahead with only two road games against some lower level competition.
Some of the bigger news heading into this game is the availability of Michigan State's backup point guard, Travis Trice. He has missed the last two games with a concussion and his status will not be made known until right before tipoff. MSU hasn't had any trouble in the last two games without him, but you need everything you can get for these big games. He played 30 minutes against Indiana when Keith Appling had to sit because of foul trouble.
It will be interesting to see how the Spartans go about guarding Trey Burke, the national player of the year candidate. Appling can guard him, but they don't want to see him in foul trouble and Gary Harris has had some back problems as of late. They will probably switch between the two and also Denzel Valentine who has taken up a bigger role in Trice's absence. Branden Dawson will likely get Tim Hardaway Jr. as he has the quickness to stay with him.
While the backcourt has bigger names, the more important battle may be down low. The duo of Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are a problem for anyone, but Michigan's most experienced big man, Jordan Morgan, could be out with a right ankle injury. He's either missed or played limited minutes in five straight games. Mitch McGary has done a lot of work lately hitting double digits in three straight games, but Jon Horford hasn't really been able to step in like that. This may be one of the toughest frontcourts that Michigan has had to face all season.
Payne is athletic, can shoot pretty well and can have that big game when needed. He went for 18 points and nine rebounds against Indiana. Nix isn't as athletic, but he succeeds with smarts and his post moves. He went for 17 points, four boards and three steals against Purdue. It's likely Izzo will want to capitalize on this matchup early and if they can get it going from the start, it's going to be hard for Michigan to pull out a win.
Burke and Hardaway Jr. are the main offensive options for Michigan and will hoist up a lot of shots. In their last couple losses, Burke has maybe thrown the ball up too much, going 6-of-20 from long range. Hardaway Jr., on the other hand, has been nothing but efficient going for at least 18 points on close to 50% shooting in three straight games. The freshmen battle between Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris will be fun to watch as both can hit the three-ball and can get their teams rolling.
With this game being in East Lansing, it's more important for the Spartans to come away with a win, especially with their remaining schedule. Obviously, this won't be an easy task as the Wolverines don't want to lose two straight.
Predicted Score - Michigan 65 Michigan State 64
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