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We could say the winner of this game will be primed to win the Big Ten regular season title, but with the way things have gone in the conference, that may not be true. Michigan State had a chance for a nice lead, but lost at home to Nebraska last Sunday after Michigan lost at home to Wisconsin. The Wolverines have the easier remaining schedule, but you never know what will happen in college basketball.
MSU has gone back and forth with wins and losses for nine straight games now. Since they are coming off a win, a loss would let the trend continue. UM is doing the same in their past six games, but is coming off a loss.
This is becoming a rivalry that isn't really affected by home court advantages. While it's nice to have your fans backing you, the effect of quieting that rival crowd can be even more exciting. That's what Nik Stauskas and Michigan did back in January, winning the first meeting 80-75 in East Lansing.
The Spartans have been battered by injuries all season long and in that first game, it was the first time all year that MSU didn't have both Branden Dawson and Adreian Payne in the lineup. While Dawson won't be fully healthy for this game, Payne is back and demolishing opponents.
Michigan will have its hands full with Payne, that's for sure. The Wolverines already lack effectiveness in the frontcourt with Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford being their only true big men. That inefficiency showed up in the loss against Wisconsin as Frank Kaminsky went for 25 points and 11 rebounds. If you didn't know, Payne is a better shooter and more athletic than Kaminsky is. Payne has reached 20 points in three of the last four games and that includes going 8-of-17 from three in those contests. He scored 23 points in just 22 minutes at Purdue on Thursday.
Along with that, Keith Appling, who has been battling a sore wrist for a while now, played 25 minutes in that game. Then of course there's MSU's leading scorer Gary Harris who knocked in six three-pointers on Thursday. As a team, Michigan State hit 17 threes in that game, a team record. Even without Dawson, guys like Denzel Valentine and Kenny Kaminski have become players to watch out for.
Michigan is a little more unpredictable, but they also have a good all-around roster outside of having guys that can work in the paint. Stauskas, Caris LeVert and Derrick Walton Jr. went a combined 10-for-13 from three and 55 points in the first meeting against MSU and that likely won't happen again. And even if it doesn't, guys like Glenn Robinson III and Zak Irvin off the bench can fill in.
This is a huge game for both teams, not only in the Big Ten, but on a national level as well. This could be Spartans' last chance of grabbing a No. 1 seed while Michigan is still pushing for something in the 2- or 3-seed range. This could be the last time Payne and Appling face Michigan and both will be looking to close that relationship with a win. Crisler Center will be crazy, but will that be enough to lift the Wolverines to a win?
Predicted Score - Michigan 74 Michigan State 69
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