Since last we met
So yeah, while Michigan spent the last couple weeks making everyone forget Penn State is Penn State, the Spartans used that big win in East Lansing to propel themselves to a top-five ranking -- which they promptly lost by losing back to back games to Indiana and Ohio State.
The first loss wasn't a huge surprise, although the Spartans played Indiana tough througout, in the end Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller were too much and Michigan State
took a shot to the nuts lost a heartbreaker at home. More surprising was that five days later Michigan State blew a six point halftime lead in a loss to Ohio State. The Buckeyes outscored the Spartans 43-29 over the final half of the game and held the lead for the last 13 minutes of the game.
The Spartans still have an outside shot at a conference title, but another loss -- this would be the third in a row -- would all but seal that door shut as it would mean Indiana would need to lose two of its final three.
It is the same as last time, but let's be honest, after the first meeting we have a better idea of just what matchups Michigan State is looking to exploit.
On the inside it is Derrick Nix. The big Spartan is shooting the ball well (an eFG% of 52) and the second best rebounder on the team both offensively and defensively. In the first game, Nix went HAM. He scored 14 points on nine shots, grabbed five boards (two offensive), and dished out three assists. Time and again the Spartans fed him the ball in the post, and he consistently delivered.
On the outside Michigan State is going to depend on the scoring of Gary Harris and the defense of Keith Appling. Appling struggled offensively against Michigan (11 points on under 30% shooting and 1/6 from deep) but was a key component in the on-ball defense that made life hard on Trey Burke and kept Michigan's offense from getting into the lane for shots at the basket. Fortunately for the Spartans, Nik Stauskas couldn't check Gary Harris, who went off for 17 points thanks to 5/9 shooting from deep. Michigan State will also have Travis Trice back in a limited role after an injury, adding some much needed depth outside.
Michigan's keys to win
Exploit the pick and roll. This isn't something Michigan State has been all that great guarding this year, but against Michigan the Spartans were lights out. This is a staple of the Michigan offense and the surest way to get Trey Burke moving toward the basket -- from which, all good things come. If Michigan's offense gets harried around the perimeter into a series of passes around the three point line, start drinking early.
Nix Derrick Nix. It seemed like every time Michigan State needed a basket to keep momentum, Derrick Nix was there and ready to deliver. Michigan has been slowly working Jordan Morgan back into the rotation after an injury, and while he hasn't looked 100%, he will need to get there quickly for Michigan to have a chance. He is the Wolverines' best post defender, as well as being a good counterpoint to the controlled (uncontrolled?) chaos of Mitch McGary.
Hold on to the freaking ball. Michigan's highest turnover rate of the season came last time these teams met -- Michigan turned it over on one-fourth of its possessions. For a team that doesn't force many turnovers itself, and probably won't do any better than break even in rebounding (best case scenario), Michigan absolutely needs to hold onto the ball much better than it did in East Lansing.
Kenpom puts this as a four-point Michigan win with about a 66% chance. Can I have some of your optimism, Kenpom?
Let's be honest, the first game was ugly, but these teams aren't 30 points apart in terms of talent. Michigan was coming off a brutal stretch, and the Spartans used a fast start, a raucous crowd, and the best defensive performance of its season to bury Michigan early. Unlike the Ohio State game earlier in the year, Michigan didn't have anything left in the tank for a comeback.
Still, some things aren't going to change. Michigan State still has a solid rebounding advantage thanks to the Nix/Payne combo on the inside. Michigan State will also get the ball inside consistently and attack a pretty putrid 2pt defense in what Michigan is lining up. On top of that, the Spartans absolutely dictated the flow of the game last time with perimeter defense and forced turnovers.
This one should be closer, but by how much? Michigan has a lot of questions to answer before it can convince anyone that this game is going to be a toss-up, and coming off a devastating loss to Penn State it isn't obvious that Michigan can answer any of those questions against even the Big Ten's worst.
Michigan can win this game. The talent is there and home court advantage (Michigan still hasn't lost at home) will help. But smart money is on the team that already provided the answers. Michigan State will probably end up winning by double digits as Michigan won't have enough to pull the game closer than five or six.