It has been a frustrating season on the whole with plenty of frustrating moments and incidents throughout its course. By now it is clear who the Michigan Wolverines are: a decent team (No. 27 per Kenpom) in the country’s toughest conference, playing with an inexperienced roster and without its best player for the most important stretch.
Almost every key bounce, every coin flip has gone the wrong way. Some of those bad feelings can be erased, however, with a win on Saturday. The visiting Michigan State Spartans are the better team on paper, a top-ten side by most analytics. But even they have not escaped the gauntlet of the Big Ten, as they enter this game having lost two straight and three of their last five.
Maybe this is not a must-win, but it sure feels like one. Michigan has been reeling for all of 2020, but a win here over a ranked opponent would do wonders for the resume, and a victory against a rival who has had the upper hand far too often in recent meetings could be exactly the morale boost needed heading into the final month of the season.
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Get hot or stop trying: The Ohio State game was weird all around due to questionable officiating, but it was notable that Michigan shot almost as well from three (32.3 percent) as from two (34.5 percent). Now, a 32 percent clip is not going to wow anyone, but it does come on the heels of a pretty solid performance against Rutgers (47.4 percent), and is higher than many recent outings. The Spartans are best in conference at stopping threes and do not allow many attempts in general. In East Lansing the Wolverines were 5-for-29 from behind the arc. This simply cannot happen again if they want to stand any chance of winning.
Reviving Teske: Jon Teske chose a poor time to have one of his worst games of the year, putting up just three points against the Buckeyes while getting smoked by Kaleb Wesson on the other end. While Austin Davis and Brandon Johns have done a nice job stepping up, Michigan needs its senior to have a strong outing on Saturday. Teske did put up 15 points in the first matchup against the Spartans, but he was outplayed by Xavier Tillman, who scored 20 points to go with 11 rebounds and six blocks. The game will not come down to Teske alone, but if he is absent again it could get ugly.
Limit Winston: It would be nice to just say “Stop Cassius Winston,” but that seems unlikely to happen. The point guard is one of the best players in the nation and has averaged over 20 points in his last five games. Winston loves playing his rivals, scoring a total of 96 points across the previous four matchups. He absolutely took over in January, leaving the Wolverines completely helpless on defense. Defending him is a complicated ask, but it starts with solid defense by Zavier Simpson. From there it requires helping when it makes sense and forcing him to make tough shots. He probably will make some, as he did in East Lansing, but Michigan needs to get the ball out of his hands whenever possible. Defense as a whole has been questionable this year, but at least this objective is pretty straightforward.
A win here would go such a long way on multiple fronts, but everything has been so tough to come by as of late. Probably another close one, but unfortunately just a bit too little. 73-68 Michigan State.
Teams: No. 16 Michigan State Spartans (16-7, 8-4) at Michigan Wolverines (11-8, 2-6)
Date: Saturday, February 6, 2020
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: FOX/Fox Sports Go