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It was just over two weeks ago when these teams last met and it has been mostly forgotten for anyone involved with Michigan basketball. The Wolverines were embarrassed from the start in East Lansing as they had no answers anywhere on the court in a 23-point loss. Michigan played probably its worst game of the season while Michigan State played one of its best games. It's almost a guarantee that the same thing won't happen again in Ann Arbor.
The Spartans are currently on a two-game losing streak after winning 11 of 12 games. Their losses include home to Indiana and at Ohio State last weekend. Even with a 22-6 record, MSU hasn't really seen great success on the road this year, having zero easy games, even against the bottom rung. They couldn't pull away from Penn State or Nebraska and of course they lost to all of the top teams including Minnesota back in their Big Ten opener.
Michigan is one of those top teams which means they have the advantage no matter how they've been playing lately. In fact, the Wolverines are in a three-way tie for second place in the conference along with Wisconsin and MSU. They are all one game behind Indiana, but Michigan is the only one that controls their own destiny. If they can win this game and beat the Hoosiers in the season finale, they can grab at least a share of the Big 10 regular season title.
Obviously, it's not going to be easy. U of M has had trouble pulling out wins for the past month. After that loss to MSU, they still found it hard to pull away against Penn State and Illinois at home. Will they have enough to get revenge on their in-state rivals this Sunday?
Big man Jordan Morgan might be the x-factor in this game as he still wasn't fully healthy the last time these teams played. He could easily see double the minutes he played in that game (nine) as the Wolverines biggest disadvantage is down low against Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. Their only other bigs, Mitch McGary and Jon Horford aren't really cutting it lately and if they don't improve at least somewhat, it's going to be hard to beat the Spartans.
Trey Burke was the only one who looked halfway decent the first time around, going for 18 points. Meanwhile, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III were embarrassed as the two combined for four points. Hardaway only made one of his 11 field goal attempts. He hasn't really gotten over that funk either, but will be something he needs to do if Michigan wants to make a deep tourney run. Freshman Nik Stauskas played okay scoring 10 points, but was no match for fellow freshman Gary Harris.
Michigan State has problems of its own. Keith Appling, their apparent leader and leading scorer, has taken a nosedive in the last two games. In fact, he hasn't shot above 29 percent in four straight. Against Indiana and Ohio State he had a combined nine points, four boards, three assists and seven turnovers while shooting 2-for-14. As one of the main players the team is counting on, you can't have those kinds of games, especially back-to-back. Luckily for them, Harris and Payne have been putting in big minutes. Harris looks healthy and driving to the lane more often while no one can really match Payne's intensity and athleticism as a big man. Along with Nix in the post, they are hard to beat. Coming off the bench freshman Denzel Valentine could be a starter on a lot of other teams and Travis Trice is getting healthier after his concussion problems. The man to watch might be Branden Dawson who hasn't looked on his game lately, having not surpassed four rebounds in six straight games. He averages six boards per game on the year and can usually out jump anyone on the court.
Crisler Center will be going crazy and Michigan knows a win here would be huge for their confidence going into the final stretch, but it will come down to which team will make the plays when it counts. Neither side has had tons of success in close games, but one of them will have to come out on top in this game.
Predicted Score - Michigan 66 Michigan State 61
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