The Michigan State Spartans (29-3, 16-2 B1G) have longed for a rematch against the Michigan Wolverines (26-7, 13-5 B1G) since losing at home Jan. 13 to their rivals.
On Saturday afternoon, they’ll get that chance.
Both teams advanced in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament Friday to set up a semifinal rematch. Michigan, fresh off a lethargic win against Iowa, found its groove against Nebraska (22-10, 13-5 B1G) with a comfortable 77-58 win.
The Wisconsin Badgers took the Spartans down to the last possession of the game but couldn’t connect on a game-tying three, losing 63-60.
After only one meeting this season, a shot at redemption for Michigan State in the B1G tournament only adds to the excitement of one of the best rivalries in college sports.
In order to sweep the season series and advance to the championship game Sunday, here are three things Michigan must do.
Limit the threes
Michigan State has the best scoring offense in the B1G (82.1/G), parlaying into winning its first Big Ten title since sharing the honors with Michigan and Ohio State in 2012.
That high scoring offense is powered by the ability to shoot threes, which Tom Izzo’s bunch does extremely well. Sparty is tied with Purdue for the best three-point percentage in the B1G at 42.1 percent.
Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Matt McQuaid all fall in the conference’s top-15 as far as three-point shooting goes. What allowed the Wolverines to dominate in East Lansing came by limiting the three ball.
On Jan. 13, the Spartans only hit three of thirteen tries. Miles Bridges was held to 1-for-5 from beyond the arc. Against an inconsistent Wisconsin team Friday, MSU shot 31.3 percent from three.
If Michigan, the B1G’s best defensive unit, can force the Spartans into another shooting slump, it could be another long afternoon for Izzo and Co.
Moe Money, Moe Problems
Tournament Moritz Wagner really is a beautiful thing, isn’t it?
We saw more flashes of Wagner rising to the occasion when the bright lights shined Friday afternoon against Nebraska, where he was good for 20 points and 13 rebounds over 33 minutes of play.
He was good from all parts of the floor — 2-for-4 from deep — and managed to stay out of foul trouble, though John Beilein jokingly ripped him postgame.
“Don’t give him too much credit, he still had stupid fouls. I need to find a German way to tell him those are stupid fouls.”
Regardless, Michigan is going to need the same Wagner on Saturday that showed up to East Lansing in January. He dropped a career-best 27 points that afternoon in arguably the best performance we’ve ever seen out of him.
The play of Wagner will really determine how Michigan fares against one of college basketball’s biggest sluggers. Another career-defining outing would propel the Wolverines into the championship game in back-to-back seasons.
Play with swagger
Michigan was the better team on Jan. 13, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are the better overall squad between the two.
But in March, that type of thinking goes out the window. The slates will be wiped clean Saturday at the Madison Square Garden, which is exactly why Michigan needs to find a way to replicate the success it had in East Lansing earlier this year.
That afternoon, they were physical, they were relentless, they shot the ball well. Beilein got career-bests out of Wagner and guard Zavier Simpson, who scored 16. They average 74.4 points per game this season, but a mid-January beatdown saw them score 82.
They’ll need all of that in order to make it two-straight against Sparty on Saturday,
This game reminds me of the one we saw Friday between Michigan and Nebraska. The Cornhuskers rolled the Wolverines earlier on in the season, and the Wolverines wanted (and got) their revenge.
To a much larger extent, the Spartans can understand that feeling of redemption. They’ll have a shot at it tomorrow.
MSU comes into play on a 13-game hot streak. Would you be able to guess the last time they lost, and maybe who they lost to? Gold star for you if you guessed Jan. 13 against their in-state rivals.
It’ll take all Michigan has to take down the B1G regular season champs Saturday, especially with Michigan State going into it with its sight set on spoiling the Wolverines postseason fun.
But, hey, if it happened before, it can happen again, right?
Teams: No. 5 Michigan Wolverines (26-7, 13-5 B1G) vs No. 1 Michigan State Spartans (29-3, 16-2 B1G)
Date: March 3, 2018
Location: Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York
Tipoff: 2 p.m. ET