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Entering Big Ten play, no one expected this matchup to feature two teams with a combined 13-0 conference record. After starting 6-4, Michigan fell out of the rankings and didn't look to be a top team in the Big Ten. That has since changed as the Wolverines have surprised everyone with their 6-0 conference record.
Michigan State is 7-0 in the Big Ten, but its conference schedule thus far, is not as tough as Michigan's. The Spartans haven't really faced a tough team on the road, and needed overtime to beat Ohio State and Minnesota at home.
The Wolverines, on the other hand, have already defeated Minnesota and Wisconsin on the road, and most recently took down Iowa on their home court. If you look a little closer at their losses, you'll see that three of them were against elite teams (two of them on the road). Michigan deceived us early on, but is now looking once again like a team that can make a deep tourney run.
A lot of Michigan's success comes from last year's sharpshooter Nik Stauskas. He has now totaled 70 points in the last three games, but also 15 boards and 14 assists. Not to mention he never really gets into foul trouble which is nice. Stauskas is a handful for opposing defenses to stop, but this game he'll have to deal with a possible NBA draft lottery pick in Gary Harris. While Harris is a couple inches shorter, he's probably a little stronger and just as deadly on the offensive end. Will Stauskas have the defense to deal with Harris, who has also been on a hot streak for the Spartans with 47 points over the last two games?
Without Mitch McGary, Jordan Morgan has come in and is playing some of the best basketball of his career. He played a huge 32 minutes on Wednesday against Iowa, going for 12 points and seven rebounds. Glenn Robinson III (13.9 PPG) and Caris LeVert (11.6 PPG) are the other two to watch out for. GRIII has struggled with his shot, but can easily finish at the hoop. Starting PG Derrick Walton Jr. battled the flu earlier in the week, but he should be good to go for this game.
Michigan State has been without senior big man, Adreian Payne, for four straight games now and is questionable in this one. The bigger news this week comes from Branden Dawson, who will be out up to four weeks with a broken bone in his hand. Because of that injury, Payne may push to come back early, although that word likely won't be revealed until the day of the game.
If both Payne and Dawson miss this game, it's going to fall on some reserve big men to fill their shoes along with Matt Costello. The good thing for MSU in this game is that Michigan isn't exactly a team that forces the ball down low to big men. Granted, without MSU's usual shot blockers, Michigan may be able to drive to the hoop with ease.
The player to focus on for this game is point guard Keith Appling (15.6 PPG, 4.6 APG), who is a Top 25 Wooden candidate. Appling will be a handful for Walton or anyone else the Wolverines put on him. That's MSU's true advantage in this game. With Dawson (10.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG) out, it's a wonder what kind of starting lineup Tom Izzo will put on the court. Denzel Valentine (6.0 RPG, 3.9 APG) may be forced to move to the four spot, which isn't exactly what Spartan fans want to see.
The Spartans have the edge playing at home, but without Payne or Dawson, this game could truly be a toss up. Apping and Harris have to be big for MSU, or else this game could be lost. The Wolverines will fight, and this game could come down to the final couple minutes. The last time Michigan won in East Lansing was after guard Korie Lucious was kicked off the team two days prior to the game. Two days prior to this game, Dawson broke a bone in his hand.
Our model's prediction - Michigan State 73 Michigan 70
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