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Juwan Howard discusses upcoming MSU game, playing on the road without Dug McDaniel

It’s rivalry week!

Syndication: Lansing State Journal Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

The vibes surrounding Michigan’s men’s basketball program are far from immaculate.

The Wolverines have only won one game in the month of January, the exact same amount as the football team. They’ve lost eight of their last nine games, most recently was a loss at home to Iowa that featured only one made field goal from U-M in the final 10 minutes of the second half.

The Wolverines sit alone in last place in the Big Ten with a 2-7 record and a 7-13 overall record, the worst through 20 games in the Juwan Howard era and the worst 20-game start for the program since John Beilein’s first season in 2007-08. With an inconsistent offense that struggles late in games and a defense that gives up 79.2 points per game (328th out of 351 teams in men’s Division I), the Wolverines have struggled in almost every single game they’ve played.

In what has turned into a lost season, the Wolverines have a chance to do the funniest thing ever: their lone win of this month was against Ohio State in front of the Fab Five, and they have a chance to close the month with a win against another rival in Michigan State.

Since being hired in 2019, Howard has split the series with Michigan State every season, holding a 4-4 record against Tom Izzo’s squad. The most recent win came last February, when Michigan beat MSU, 84-72, at Crisler Center in what ended up being one of the Wolverines’ best wins of the season.

“It’s great to have a rivalry game in-state, this is always fun times,” Howard told the media on Monday. “Fun times for our entire state to tune in and see two teams who do a really good job competing for the bragging rights. We’re looking forward to the competition, which we always do. We expect (it) to be a very home, welcoming environment for us tomorrow when we arrive.”

Both teams head into this game in the midst of seasons that have not gone as planned. After starting the season ranked in the top-five in the AP Poll, Michigan State has been in the middle of the pack in the conference with a 4-5 Big Ten record, a 12-8 overall record and a 4-3 record in its last seven games.

In spite of the struggles from both teams, these games tend to come down to the wire. In a raucous environment at the Breslin Center, the Wolverines will have to embrace being the villain.

“Our guys are pumped up and excited about this,” Howard said. “When you go into the lion’s den on the road, it’s always a challenging environment. But the best part about it is you get so locked in, knowing it’s Michigan vs. everybody.”

The Wolverines will be without their leading scorer in this one, with Dug McDaniel continuing to be academically suspended for road games. So far in the games without McDaniel, the Wolverines lost to Maryland by seven and got blown out by No. 2 Purdue.

Michigan won’t have McDaniel, but it is healthier as a whole, with Jace Howard and Tray Jackson both now available for the Wolverines.

“We don’t look at who we don’t have,” Howard said. “We get locked in on the guys that are going to keep that jersey on, and everyone that’s going to be available, we trust that those guys will give us the best chance to win.”

When asked about how he’s preparing for Michigan State, Howard didn’t get too specific, but did take time to praise Izzo, who sits at 699 career wins heading into this game.

“I see a team that is scrapping and competing just like us,” Howard said. “I also expect with Michigan State, with some of the disappointments they’ve had, Tom Izzo and his staff are rallying the troops, teaching and growing them day by day. I expect them to keep competing ‘til the end, with Tom being Tom, a Hall of Fame coach, that’s all I expect.”