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Players to watch: Michigan vs Michigan State

It’s a battle for the Mitten State in East Lansing.

NCAA Basketball: Penn State at Michigan Lon Horwedel-USA TODAY Sports
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

The Michigan Wolverines are off to a hot start in Big Ten play after demolishing Maryland and beating a quality Penn State team by double-digits. The response from the Wolverines since the demeaning loss against Central Michigan has been nothing but what you’d expect from a program that’s usually among the best in the nation. Their toughest test comes this weekend in East Lansing against a Michigan State team that has won five straight.

Let’s dive in an analyze some of the guys who are going to be the biggest difference-makers in Saturday’s contest.

Michigan: Hunter Dickinson

It may be cliché to continue to say Dickinson is the player to watch for all these big games, but that is not a question with this one. Michigan State should not have the personnel to slow down the Michigan big man.

Freshman Carson Cooper is the tallest player on the Spartans’ roster, but he averages just five minutes a game. That leaves a handful of much smaller defenders to matchup with Dickinson. Guys like Mady Sissoko (6-foot-9, 240 pounds) are going to be tasked with trying to slow him down. If the Spartans try and go more athletic, it will likely be senior forward Malik Hall, who is just 6-foot-8, 220.

The Wolverines should have plenty of favorable matchups with Dickinson on the offensive end, and they did a hell of a job utilizing that in the wins over Penn State and Maryland. In those two contests, the big fella is 19-for-26 from the field with 49 points and 18 rebounds. Some of the Nittany Lions' key contributors also got caught in foul trouble trying to guard Dickinson, leaving the Wolverines in the bonus for large portions of each half.

It’s pretty simple — if Michigan finds ways to get Dickinson involved early and often, it will have a great chance at starting at 4-0 in Big Ten play.

Michigan State: Joey Hauser

Possibly the best shooter in the Big Ten, Joey Hauser is off to a heck of a start this season. The 6-foot-9 forward is shooting an absurd 43.1% from behind the arc and has scored in double-figures in the team’s last nine games.

If you want to limit the Spartans on offense, it starts with slowing down Hauser. In Michigan State losses this season, the senior forward is a combined 10-for-36 from the field and 2-for-12 from deep.

If he is struggling to shoot, it is extremely difficult for Tom Izzo to get his offense going. That’s because his team is not built to put up a bunch of threes. In fact, they average just 20 attempts per game, which is 12th in the Big Ten this season. Hauser’s play is a massive part of that, as he attempts about 4.5 of those per game.

Hauser is tough to guard because he uses his size to shoot over smaller defenders and can back them down into the paint. At the same time, if you put a bigger body on him, he’ll play on the perimeter and put them in awkward situations on the pick-and-roll. I suspect we see Terrance Williams II and Jett Howard guard him.

Michigan: Joey Baker

One of the biggest knocks about this Michigan team is its bench play, especially after the injury to Jaelin Llewellyn earlier this season made the list of options even shorter. However, Baker has shown flashes of being a contributor deserving of more minutes.

I believe he has stepped it up on the defensive end over the past few games, which has been the biggest reason Juwan Howard has had to keep him on the bench. If he continues to string together more performance like he has over the last two weeks, Baker will earn a lot more playing time in Big Ten play.

Right now, the senior is one of the better options on the offensive end when he is on the court. He’s shooting 40.8% from the field and 48.6% from deep in his 14.5 minutes per game. More plays to get him open will only help the offense moving forward, especially when the second unit is on the floor.

Michigan State: Tyson Walker

The Spartans have a handful of guys who can go off for 20-plus points on any given night, and at the top of that list is point guard Tyson Walker. The Northeastern transfer has upped his play in 2022-23 after a mediocre season in East Lansing last year. The senior just scored 21 points in the dominating 74-56 win over Nebraska on Tuesday.

He’s had to be a bigger factor on the offensive end for the Spartans this season thanks to injuries to significant players like Jaden Akens and Malik Hall, and he has filled their shoes well. He’s up to 13.9 points per game, a significant increase from his play last year.

Walker does it all. He is dangerous off the dribble and can facilitate the ball well on top of lighting up the scoreboard. I suspect a lot of high screens from whoever Dickinson is guarding to get Walker space to drive to the basket. Michigan’s defense has been suspect against guard play all season, and Walker will find ways to penetrate and take advantage of that if the Wolverines aren’t air-tight on the defensive end.