Michigan and Michigan State Fight for First in Big Ten
Yet here we are a few weeks later and the Wolverines are a win away from climbing to 7-0 and first place in the Big Ten.
For the Michigan State Spartans, trouble just started to set in. Injuries to starters Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson have the Spartans quite shorthanded going into Saturday night’s showdown against their in-state rivals. But with only 1 loss on the season and a 7-0 conference record, the Spartans don’t have anything much to be worried about quite yet.
Last year, they split the season series, each team winning at home. Michigan State cruised to a 75-52 victory at Breslin but Michigan held on for a close win at Crisler Arena, 58-57.
But this time around, there’s no Trey Burke or Tim Hardaway, Jr. or McGary in maize and blue, while the green and white will see what life is like without Dawson and Payne.
The most intriguing matchup to watch Saturday night at Breslin will be the scoring battle between shooting guards Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris. Both players have had strikingly similar starts to the 2013-14 season. Michigan’s Stauskas is averaging 18.5 points per game behind 2.6 three pointers per contest, while MSU’s Harris sits at 18.3 per game with 2.4 threes. Stauskas has been more efficient from the field so far (49.5% to 43.1%) but Harris is more of a presence on the defensive end, a quick perimeter defender averaging 2.1 steals per game.
Whoever’s hotter Saturday night between the two shooting guards will go a long way into determining which team has the edge.
Also factoring heavily into the game’s outcome is Michigan State’s senior point guard Keith Appling. He’s off to a great start this year, averaging career highs in points (15.6), assists (4.6), threes (1.5), and most importantly field goal percentage (47% compared with just 41.5% last season). This year Appling doesn’t have the pesky defense of Burke to worry about and if he can play an efficient game, hit his outside shots and get his teammates involved, MSU will be far tougher to beat.
Outside of Stauskas, the Wolverines have a very dangerous weapon in sophomore Glenn Robinson III. He’s explosive when he gets to the rim and he can knock down open shots from time to time, but his offensive game has been rather inconsistent so far this year. His 13.9 points per game are an improvement over last year’s 11.0, but he’s only hitting 28.8% of his three point attempts, something the team was looking for him to vastly improve on this year after shooting 32.4% last season.
Between Robinson and combo guard Caris LeVert, the Wolverines need solid scoring support to help complement Stauskas.
With over half of the Big Ten schedule still remaining, Saturday night’s game isn’t a must-win for either team by any means, but if both teams continue their solid conference play while the rest of the conference continues beating up on each other (no one else in the Big Ten has fewer than 2 conference losses, Iowa is currently third in the conference at 5-2), then the head-to-head matchups will be key in determining the Big Ten regular season championship. And first place in the conference or not, there’s always something a little extra on the table when it’s these two teams on the court.