Michigan Basketball renews its in-state rivalry with Michigan State on Sunday afternoon and we previewed the showdown with McLain Moberg of our MSU site The Only Colors to take a look at the game from their point of view.
Here is our discussion:
MnB: Coming into the season, this was expected perhaps to be one of Tom Izzo’s best teams in terms of ceiling. What happened?
TOC: Injuries. When Gavin Schilling and Ben Carter went down things started to unravel. Tom Izzo was under the impression he would have those guys night in and night out. Schilling and Carter were supposed to be a big part of the team, without them Michigan State has played undersized all year. Coach Izzo teams love to play tough defense and crash the boards, with no real size the Spartans have lacked the identity fans typically see in Izzo led teams.
MnB: Where is the fanbase at with Tom Izzo right now?
TOC: The fan base overall is fine, nobody wants to see Izzo wearing something other than Green and White. The man has won 71.5% of his games while coaching the Spartans. Not to mention the 7 Final Fours, a National Championship, and four head coaching awards. The fans may be frustrated, but the team has been riddled with injuries and are extremely young. Bottom line fans love themselves some Tom Izzo, a frustrating season isn’t going to change that.
MnB: Tom Izzo has earned the benefit the doubt when it comes to teams clicking late in the season. Do you see it happening this year?
TOC: I believe this team will make the big dance. This is clearly a must win to keep those chances alive but they have the feel of a tournament team. Tom Izzo has done so much more with less. While some will tell you they are just too small and young to make a deep run, Michigan State fans will tell you when Tom Izzo is your head coach you always have a fighting chance.
MnB:What do you think MSU’s biggest advantage is in this contest? Disadvantage?
TOC: I’ll start with the disadvantage, Michigan’s size is going to be huge in this game. Moritz Wagner and D.J. Wilson are going to cause some havoc. Michigan can play bully ball down low if they please, Wagner is 6-11, Wilson is 6-10. Michigan State’s tallest player is 6-8 in Nick Ward, their next tallest is Miles Bridges listed at 6-7. If Michigan doesn't win the battle on the glass I would be extremely surprised. The Spartans biggest advantage is their three point shooting, while Michigan State struggles with defending the perimeter they certainly can drain the long ball. Currently three guys are shooting over 40% from deep (Bridges, Harris, Langford). Two others are shooting above 35% (Nairn, Ellis).
MnB: Name a player to watch in this contest that nobody is talking about.
TOC: We have all been hearing quite a bit about the great young talent that is Cassius Winston but keep an eye out for Tum Tum Nairn, recently Tom Izzo has utilized his speed more which is his best asset. When he pushes the pace and plays aggressively Michigan State is a different team on offense. Too many times this year has the Spartan offense been stunted in the half court, watch for Nairn to push the pace and run in transition to get this Spartan offense rolling.
MnB: Do MSU fans feel as much hatred for the Wolverines in basketball or is it more of a football rivalry?
TOC: It is a rivalry in both sports, but it is a bigger rivalry in football. The week leading up to Saturday before these teams meet on the gridiron is hate amongst fans that goes unmatched. There is a passion in the football rivalry that you really do not get a feel for in the basketball world. Although diehard Spartan fans will tell you beating Michigan in any sport is what they live for.
MnB: Fill in the blank: The winner of this game will be the team that ____.
TOC: The winner of this game will be the team that plays better defense. Both teams allow opponents to shoot above 40% from the field and Michigan State has been terrible when it comes to defending the perimeter. Both groups have the ability to score in bunches which will lead to a high scoring game but whoever locks down on defense towards the end of the game will come away with the victory.
MnB: What’s your prediction for the game?
MSU 80 UM 77
Sunday’s rivalry game tips off at 1 p.m. ET from the Breslin Center in East Lansing.