The biggest rematch in the Big Ten Conference takes place this Sunday, as the Michigan Wolverines face-off against their in-state rival, the Michigan State Spartans for the second time this season. Just like last time, bragging rights are on the line but the main thing that both teams are focused on is winning, because whoever wins this game, could very well win the Big Ten Title for the regular season and possibly the Big Ten Tournament Title as well.
Now the last time these two teams faced-off, the Wolverines was able to pull out a clutch victory, defeating the Spartans with a final score of 80-75. However, since Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson weren’t in the line-up for the Spartans in that game, fans and even analysts were quick to say that while this victory was a good one for the Wolverines, the re-match would be an even better test, because the Spartans would be more healthy. Well that time is now, and with more a healthy Spartan team and more experienced Wolverine team, there is no reason to think that this won’t be a good game and like always, both the Wolverines and Spartans have a chance to win this game, if they follow certain keys to victory.
Spartans Keys to Victory
Defensively, the Spartans must contain the Wolverines star player Nik Stauskas, by containing him the Spartans will be forcing the Wolverines to beat them without Stauskas. When it comes to containing Stauskas, it all starts with being aware of where he is on the court, making him fight through screens and bumping him off his cuts but the more important factor will be Harris and Valentine sticking to his hip because Stauskas has a quick release and smooth shot that is deadly when he gets going.
The Spartan must also take the same approach when it comes to containing three-point line but more importantly they must be disciplined, close-out consistently and be aware of all shooters on the court at all times.
Adreian Payne must dominate in the paint for the Spartans to win this game. Since returning to the lineup, Payne is averaging 18 points and six rebounds per game and with his great size and athleticism, there is no reason for him to be contained by this Wolverine team all game long. When it comes to rebounding, Payne must be more physical and look to go for double-digit stats in the rebound column. Defensively, he must make a point to limit second chance opportunities by the Wolverines and his teammates Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine will need to do the same thing. Offensively, Payne needs to make point to take over the paint and to do that he mus be physical and establish good position in the post, once there I look for him to make quick decisions and moves and either score or pass it out to a shooter. Payne would also be smart to take advantage of mis-matches not only in the paint but also on the perimeter.
While many fans and analyst are focused on Payne, I caution many to remember the true x-factors in this game for the Spartans, and those x-factors are Keith Appling and Gary Harris. Appling has had his issues this season with injuries but going into this game he can’t use that as an excuse. For the Spartans to have success, he must make a point to get everyone involved but he must also be willing to step up even more and score the ball at a high rate offensively. For him to do that, he needs to continue taking high percentage shots, whether it be through the lane or on the perimeter.
When it comes to Harris, he has to shoot the ball well because before the impressive Purdue victory, Harris was struggling with his shot. He may be able to drive the lane in this game but if the Wolverines force him to shoot the ball, Harris must be able to connect on his jump shot because the Spartans will need his offensive production.
The Spartans will also need to have constant ball movement offensively if they plan to have success against the Wolverines. Which means they can’t afford to force shots and turnovers.
Just like last time, the Spartans will also need a few role players to step up as in this game if they plan to come out victorious. Matt Costello has begun to come into his own, making an impact on the boards and defensively. Denzel Valentine is a very underrated passer, who is more than capable of scoring the ball whether he is driving to the basket or shooting a jump shot. Then you have, Alvin Ellis and Travis Trice, who has displayed an ability to score in bunches and shoot from long-range and get hot very quickly. If one or more of these young men can step up for the Spartans, they are in good shape.
Wolverines Keys to Victory
Now last time the Wolverines faced-off against the Spartans, they came in with plenty of momentum and confidence but coming into this game, the Wolverines have recently lost three of their last five games. However, just like always, the Wolverines still have a chance to win this game and it starts with their two stars, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III.
The Wolverines must get Robinson III involved early and often, regardless of whether Branden Dawson is playing or not. As I mentioned before, Robinson III must get his jump shot going and for him to do that he must take good shots and execute on those shots. He has a tendency to either take bad shots or pass up on open shots and he can’t afford do that in this game. Most importantly, Robinson must let the game come to him, he can’t go into this game over-thinking his objective. He just needs to be thinking about playing lock-down defense, controlling the boards and hitting wide open shots. Whether he’s gets a strong start or a bad start, he’s must remain aggressive and look for his shot and while he is doing that, he needs to make a point to have an impact on the boards and defensively, if he can do those things, the Wolverines will be in good shape.
The same goes for Stauskas, they must get him involved early and often but in his case, he must get going from three-point land. He has struggled to find a groove lately but a home game against the Spartans may be what he needs to get going again. If for whatever reason he does struggle, Stauskas must stay aggressive and continue to take good shots but during that time he must also figure out other ways to make an impact, whether it be by creating for others, attacking the rim, rebounding the ball or playing lock-down defense. Most importantly, I look for Stauskas to step up and be a leader, both on the floor and in huddle because there is no doubt that this game will be intense and the Wolverines will need their leader.
Just like last the time, the Wolverines will need someone else to step up besides Robinson III and Stauskas. Normally when it comes to the Wolverines you can take your pick on who will step up but in this case I am really looking for Derrick Walton Jr to step up. Last time, Walton Jr had the responsibility of containing point guard Keith Appling and making him work for everything he got and he will need to do that exact same thing. However, just like he has done the last few games, Walton Jr needs to continue being an offensive weapon and option for the Wolverines. Walton Jr isn’t Burke but he doesn’t have to be to help the Wolverines succeed. He has a great ability to create and score and with his clutch abilities to take over games, he will be needed in this game more than ever. He has helped the Wolverines this season by taking on part of the offensive load and he needs to continue that in this game.
Now, that’s not to say that Caris LeVert and Zak Irvin don’t need to step up at as well because they do but the main thing I would like to see from them is effort and execution on their jump shots. After that, it’s all about doing the little things well, like defense, rebounding and taking care of the ball.
Defensively, Horford and Morgan must also make a point to not allow easy baskets in the paint. Morgan and Horford may not have the great height or size but that doesn’t mean they should allow Payne to dominate. The main goal for them, should be to force Payne to beat them with his jump shot because if they allow him to get position in the paint, it’s going to be a long night for the Wolverines. The Wolverines must also do better with their transition defense which has been inconsistent all season. A lot of it really comes down to communication and not making a point to get back on defense after a miss shot.
After the performance the Spartans had against Purdue this past week, Wolverines can’t afford to let the Spartan get easy buckets in transition or open three-point shots. So the Wolverines need to be aware of players running free and make a point to call out who’s got who. They have to be quicker when it comes to figuring out certain defensive assignments and they must be able to it quickly while in transition. To many times this season, opponents have taken open jump shots, so the Wolverines must hustle, stay disciplined, close-out consistently and be aware of all shooters on the court at all times.
Which leads me to my final key to victory for the Wolverines, which is rebounding. Last time the Wolverines played the Spartans, Adreian Payne didn’t play due to injury but this time he is playing and the Wolverines better be prepared for him. On the rebounding side, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Glenn Robinson III who typically rebound the ball well must be physical and box out in this game. Rebounding the ball well on the defensive side of the ball will limit second chance opportunities by the Spartans and offensive rebounding will help to create second chance opportunities for the Wolverines and considering how much they like to shoot the three ball, they will want and need second chance opportunities at times in this game.
Just like last time, this is a tough prediction to make because I expect this to be a good and competitive game that will be determined by whoever does the little things well and makes the least amount of mistakes. However, just like last time, I am picking the Wolverines to win a close one defeating the Spartans for the second time this season. I believe the Wolverines are a totally different team at home, plus I love the play I have been seeing from Walton Jr and Horford as of late and if the Wolverines can get Stauskas and Robinson III to have a good game, there is no reason that they can’t win this game.
When it comes to the Spartans, I am still concern about the productive yet inconsistent play of the role players and some of the star players. I still think it will be a great game but I think the Wolverines will once again pull out the victory.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit