The Michigan Wolverines are still firmly sitting on the bubble with a week left to play in the regular season. A tough loss to Illinois at home on Sunday cost them a shot at making some headway in the selection committee’s eyes. Now at 15-12 and with only three games to go, they are desperate for some big late-season wins.
They’ll have the opportunity to do just that tonight as the Spartans come to Ann Arbor for a game that almost always meets expectations. A little extra heat is always in the air when these two face off, and Michigan’s bubble status is only going to add to that.
It’s the perfect scenario for Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who have already beaten the Wolverines, just got back on track by topping Purdue at home this weekend and could play a key part in ending Michigan’s seasoning Ann Arbor.
Michigan Wolverines (15-12, 9-8) vs. Michigan State Spartans (19-9, 10-7)
Date & Time: Tuesday, March 1, 8:30 p.m.
Location: Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Big Ten Standings: MICH t-8th, MSU t-5th
The last time these two met did not go well for the Wolverines; they hung tight until halftime but scored just two points in the first five minutes of the second half. They didn’t have enough to mount a comeback after falling behind by double-digits and watching their opponents continue to soar to an 83-67 victory.
The drought they suffered cost them the game and contributed to them shooting just 37.1% from the field and only 15.8% from deep. A repeat performance on the offensive end will not be enough for Michigan to win this game. Guard play is going to be of the upmost importance for Michigan, as Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones combined for 14 points on 5-of-18 shooting in the loss.
With their recent struggles, the Spartans now average fewer points per game than Michigan (72.7-72.1). Michigan shoots the ball at a higher clip from the field, but the Spartans are much better from deep. Only Purdue has a better three-point percentage in the Big Ten this season. We saw in Sunday’s loss how much Michigan could struggle if its opponents shoot well from deep.
Despite the Spartan’s 2-5 record in their last seven games, they are still one of the more dangerous teams in the country. That’s because their scoring can come from so many different places. Gabe Brown (11.4 points per game) is their most consistent scorer, but Max Christie is the biggest x-factor for them. The Spartans are 11-1 this season when he reaches double-digits in scoring, compared to 7-8 when he does not.
Overall, the Spartans have eight players who average more than six points per game. Their versatility, deepness and ability to score at every level are what have made them such a dangerous team at times this season.
But it can also be their downfall and it’s why they have struggled so much over the past few weeks. Brown, their leading scorer, went a five-game stretch last month where he scored a total of 19 points. The Spartans were 1-4 in those games. Right now, they haven’t had a guy who can will his way to pulling the team out of a slump. With no elite scorer to turn to, they have struggled to get things back on track at points this season.
Michigan will be hopeful to see the Spartans team that looked horrific on the offensive end for a large stretch of February. It will be much more difficult if the Wolverines get the amped-up version of MSU where everyone is hitting shots like they did last time.
Both teams have a lot to play for in terms of seeding in the Big Ten Tournament and beyond, but the Wolverines are the more desperate team at home. That could play to their favor, or it could be the exact motivation the Spartans need to put a nail in the proverbial coffin that is Michigan’s season.
With ranked matchups against Iowa and Ohio State awaiting, this game is as close to a must-win as they come for the Wolverines. A good start to this three-game stretch is vital for their NCAA Tournament hopes.