Michigan State (20-4, 7-4 Big Ten) beat Michigan (17-7, 7-4 Big Ten), 89-73, at the Crisler Center on Saturday afternoon.
MSU was always going to pose matchup issues in this one. It would have been naïve to believe otherwise, but most expected a competitive contest. However, the Spartans put the pedal down from the tip and kept it there. Michigan was slow to close out on the perimeter, and MSU took advantage, drilling 14 of their 22 three-point attempts. Duncan Robinson on Bryn Forbes was a defensive catastrophe, as Forbes finished with a game-high 29 points on 8-of-10 shooting from behind the three-point line. Denzel Valentine also shredded Michigan's defense with a near triple-double, registering 21 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
The discrepancy in athleticism wasn’t what it was against Indiana on Tuesday, though it felt that way at times. What was the same was Michigan's continued dry spell from three that quickly is draining the life from this team. Once again without Caris LeVert, who missed his 10th straight game with a "lower left leg" injury, Michigan had to shoot well from deep, but the Wolverines didn’t. They made just 8-of-28 threes, which will not get the job done against anybody but Rutgers. Zak Irvin led Michigan in scoring with 19 points but needed 16 shots to get there, and Aubrey Dawkins was the only one with an efficient effort, scoring 14 points on just five field-goal tries.
The sting of today will pass. Michigan will most likely rebound, make the tournament, and be somewhere between a seven and eleven seed. MSU has now won four in a row, but, before this stretch, Michigan had beaten MSU in six of eight contests on the hardwood. It’s all cyclical, and the most important meeting is always the next one. As Craig Ross once told me, after losses to a rival, "the victories are sweeter, the high fives higher."
What does linger are questions about the holistic direction of the program and no, for the love of God, this is not me advocating firing John Beilein. It is, however, an avocation for a change in his approach, just as he made five seasons ago.
In 2009-10, Michigan went 15-17 and missed the postseason all together. In the spring of 2010, Beilein refocused and shuffled his assistants. Then, after one middling season, Michigan won 40 of its next 54 Big Ten contests (with two conference titles) and went to a National Championship Game and an Elite Eight.
Michigan’s head coach is a man of integrity. He is a basketball visionary who has won at every level of the game. He is also not averse to change, and now it may be time for him to make one. Trey Burke’s swipe of Keith Appling feels like a long time ago.