12th Man Report: Stage Set in East Lansing
In a little more than 24 hours, No. 21 Michigan will square off on the hardcourt against the third-ranked Michigan State Spartans. And the first meeting this season between the instate rivals couldn’t come at a more riveting time. Saying the “stage is set” isn’t even doing this weekend’s matchup justice — it’s bound to be one the best Big Ten games of the season.
First off, the game’s being played at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, automatically making Michigan State the clear favorite. Playing on the road in the Big Ten is difficult in and of itself, but playing in a raucous, rowdy arena like the Breslin Center is damn near impossible. The students will banter and terrorize opposing players (Michigan in this case) until they can take no more, and then … there’ll be more. There are unfamiliar rims, baskets, locker rooms, etc., and the odds are stacked against the visiting team.
But Saturday’s game has a few story lines that could throw a curveball into Sparty’s plans. Like the fact that Michigan is coming in very, very hot. The Wolverines have back-to-back wins against top-10 ranked teams and have gained all kinds of momentum. Whether it’s freshman Zak Irvin, whose 3-point percentage has steadily risen, or the impressive play of sophomore Nik Stauskas, Michigan right now isn’t the same team that lost to Charlotte in the NIT Tipoff Finals.
If there’s one thing we know, though, it’s that a Tom Izzo-led team won’t back down easily. The Spartans have a lot of depth — fortunately, as it seems that both Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson won’t play — and that depth will play a big role on Saturday. However, rebounding and post play usually favor the Spartans when playing the typically smaller Wolverines, but without their two leading rebounders (Payne and Dawson), Michigan State will need extra production out of guards Gary Harris and Keith Appling.
No matter what happens on Saturday in East Lansing, the winner will become the only unbeaten team in the conference and also take sole possession of first place. Granted there’s still a lot of basketball to be played and the standings could drastically change between now and March, but whoever wins this weekend will be one step closer to a Big Ten title.