Coming off a down year for Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans, the 2021-22 version of this team looks much improved. They have a nine-man rotation of players who all have the capability of lighting up the scoreboard, which is why they’ve ascended from unranked to No. 10 team in the country.
Fortunately for the Michigan Wolverines, the Spartans have lost two of their last three, including Tuesday’s loss to an Illinois squad that was without Kofi Cockburn and Andre Curbelo. They also lost against a not-so-great Northwestern team.
Little of that actually matters in what will be a renewal of one of the biggest rivalries in college basketball. These two have split the season series over the past two years and are 5-5 in the last 10 games dating back to Feb. 2017.
There are a couple familiar faces on each side and a few new ones to look out for in this matchup. Let’s take at who could be the biggest difference makers on the court on Saturday for the Spartans.
Senior forward Marcus Bingham Jr.
The Grand Rapids native was the No. 1 recruit in the state back in 2018 and he has been a key role player for the Spartans over the past few seasons. The 7-foot senior is one of the best interior defenders in the conference, averaging 2.7 blocks per game. His 7-foot-4 wingspan gives him the height and length to make things difficult for even the best big men in the conference.
Bingham Jr. has put on weight since last season and is up to 230 pounds, putting him closer to the same weight class as the Big Ten’s elite big men. The offensive side of the ball is coming along, but most of his play comes from around the basket off of pick-and-rolls. The Spartans love bringing him up to the arc and then rolling him down for easy alley-oops over smaller defenders.
Last year, Bingham Jr. helped frustrate Dickinson into a game where the Michigan center was just 4-for-10 and in foul trouble for most of the contest. The Spartans won in the Breslin Center because of it. The game prior in Ann Arbor, Dickinson posted a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds, but still had six turnovers.
This was earlier this season against Grand Valley State University, where the Spartan’s 7-footer posted 10 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in the best game of his career:
Marcus Bingham Jr. was swatting shots all over the Breslin Center on Thursday against GVSU.— Jason Hutton (@jhutt5) November 5, 2021
6 blocks pic.twitter.com/WoGKhfz90T
Albeit, this was against weaker competition, but it shows you what Bingham Jr. is capable of if he gets hot under the basket on the defensive end.
Freshman guard Max Christie
Christie was one of the most coveted recruits in college basketball in the 2021 class. The five-star shooting guard was ranked the No. 20 overall player, and he’s has been unbelievable for stretches of this season. When Christie is rolling, the Michigan State offense is rolling as the Spartans are 9-0 in games where Christie reaches double-digits.
Not only does Christie have a beautiful shot, but he is also extremely athletic and can put opponents on a putback poster if they aren’t careful. He’s one of the most gifted guards in the conference and has a bright future ahead at the next level.
The issue is, he’s in a bit of a three-game slump. He scored just two points against Illinois and had six in the loss to Northwestern. In those two losses, Christie was a combined 2-of-16 from the field and he’s just 2-for-10 from behind the three-point line in the last three games.
A matchup with Eli Brooks is going to be a tall task for the true freshman, as Brooks is one of the top defensive guards in the Big Ten. Stifling his offensive productions is going to be key for the Wolverines to win this game on Saturday.