The No. 2 Michigan Wolverines look to improve their case for a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament when they visit the rival Michigan State Spartans on Sunday. Michigan topped Michigan State on Thursday night in Ann Arbor, 69-50, to clinch the Big Ten regular-season title, but the Wolverines would love to hand their bitter rivals another loss in this one.
The Wolverines bounced back from a blowout loss to Illinois with Thursday’s win. Michigan (19-2) is considered one of the best bets to earn a No. 1 seed when the NCAA Tournament brackets come out next weekend.
Michigan State is fighting for its tournament life and could put a big win on its resume with a home win over the Wolverines. Coach Tom Izzo’s squad got back on the bubble with consecutive wins over top five teams just a couple of weeks ago, but to feel secure going into Selection Sunday, the Spartans want all the wins they can get.
Michigan State (14-11) is 8-11 in conference play, having won four of its last six games.
Michigan Wolverines: Wanting More
The Wolverines are safe in their current position, knowing they’ll be the top seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament and part of the Field of 68 come Selection Sunday. But Juwan Howard isn’t going to let his team rest on its laurels, especially against the Spartans, who have won four of the last six meetings, including the Big Ten tournament championship game in 2019.
Sophomore forward Franz Wagner led the way with 19 points in Thursday’s win, including a season-high four 3-pointers. Wagner is averaging 13.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game this season and leads the team with 1.3 steals per contest.
Freshman center Hunter Dickinson has paced the Wolverines all season long with 14.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. He’s shooting 60.6% from the field as well, making college basketball news by ranking second in the Big Ten. He had a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday’s win.
Senior swingman Isaiah Livers may be the most motivated to beat the Spartans on their Senior Day. Livers is averaging a career-best 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds per game this season, hitting a team-best 49 3-pointers at 45.4% accuracy.
Michigan State Spartans: Strange Situation
The Spartans are typically one of the teams that doesn’t have to sweat out Selection Sunday, but Izzo’s squad still has some work to do to feel comfortable when the NCAA March Madness field is announced. Although wins over Illinois and Ohio State at home have helped their cause, the Spartans would like to add a home win over Michigan as well.
If that’s going to happen, junior forward Aaron Henry is going to be a big part of it. Henry is all over the Michigan State stat sheet, leading the team in scoring (15.4 points), assists (3.5 per game), blocks (1.3) and steals (1.2) while ranking second in rebounding (5.6). If Henry is having an off game, the Spartans are likely not going to be competitive.
Senior Joshua Langford has been upping his game during the Spartans’ recent surge as well. Langford is the other double-figure scorer on Michigan State, averaging 10.0 points and tying for the team lead with 33 3-pointers on the season. Over the last six games, he’s averaging 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds.
The Spartans like to get out and run, but to do that, they have to rebound. Michigan State was outrebounded 34-28 in Thursday’s game and had just two fast-break points, and it went 0-of-9 from 3-point range.
Michigan is not just going to roll over to allow its rival to win a big game for its NCAA Tournament chances. The Wolverines will be fired up to make it two straight over the Spartans as well as get closer to clinching a No. 1 seed.
Michigan State must play better if it wants to win this one. Being at home will help, but the Spartans have to be more aggressive offensively after managing just 50 points on Thursday. Henry and Langford will have some big games, but it won’t be enough.
Michigan is simply too good to lose this one, but we can see this one being close down the stretch. When making your college basketball picks, take the eight points and go with the host Spartans.