There are a lot of things on the line in this Game, not only because it’s an in-state rivalry. Both teams are in play for a 1-seed, but still have to hang on for a 2-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Of course, the Big Ten regular season title is still up for grabs and if one of these teams can sweep the series, that’d be huge. This matchup would’ve been a little more exciting, but with Josh LAngford and Nick Ward injured, the hype is a bit lower and Michigan is expected to win.
Michigan may have won even if those two guys were healthy because it has been dominant at home, still undefeated for the season. OUtside of the close call against Minnesota, the Wolverines haven’t had many tight Games at home, including the huge blowout of North Carolina. Michigan State has been good on the road, but again, has played just one Game without Nick Ward and has already struggled in difficult road environments at Louisville, Purdue and Illinois.
This is the No. 1 Big Ten offense (MSU) against the No. 1 Big Ten defense (UM), but the other end is just as important with how the Wolverines have struggled at times. Not to mention, the Spartans are also stout defensively and actually lead the Conference in terms of defensive effective field-goal percentage. The biggest matchup in this Game is undoubtedly Zavier Simpson against Cassius Winston. Simpson has gotten the better of Winston the last couple years and if that happens again, this could be a blow out. The Spartans need Winston to play smart basketball, setting up the offense, but also scoring around 20 points. As for Simpson, he could Scorefive points and Michigan would be fine. The difference from previous years is that Winston is a much better defensive player and that could be a big help in this Game.
Similar to that battle possibly being a wash, neither team has many other defined advantages in terms of matchups. Ward is out and MSU is thin down low, but Jon Teske isn’t a guy that’s going to draw a ton of fouls and he may even be at a disadvantage against Xavier Tillman. The goal for Kenny Goins will be to not get into foul trouble against Ignas Brazdeikis, while limiting Michigan’s leading scorer. The other problem for Michigan is that MSU has great perimeter defense with Matt McQuaid and Aaron Henry to match up with Charles Matthews and Jordan Poole.
On the other end, the Spartans will likely have trouble scoring all Game unless Tillman can consistently win his matchup against Teske. If that happens, it could lead to some open looks for Goins and others on the perimeter. Otherwise, to score, they’ll need another huge performance out of Winston, but also McQuaid to step up, which will be difficult with Matthews or Poole on him. The other problem for MSU is that Kyle Ahrens has a back issue and that takes away even more depth if he can’t play. This team looked inept at times against Rutgers and that will only be amplified in Crisler Arena.
It’s a rivalry so this is expected to be a close Game, but if Winston struggles to get going against Simpson again, the Wolverines will likely be leading the entire way. Covering will come down to what the Michigan offense can do and that’s often been a hard thing to bank on.
Our Pick – Michigan State +4.5