Monday, February 9, 2009

Renewal of a Rivalry: #9 Michigan State @ Michigan

As they'll all be heading down the stretch, tomorrow night's game is of great importance for Michigan and their NCAA Tournament chances. Michigan (15-9, 5-6) plays host to #9 Michigan State (19-4, 9-2) at 7pm from Crisler Arena. MSU is a 4.5 point favorite.

Programming Info: The game is on ESPN at 7pm with Brent (much younger and working for CBS in the picture to the right) and Steve Lavin on the call, with Erin Andrews as the sideline reporter. WCBN will have a preview of the game on the Tuesday DSR (5:15) and LIVE coverage of the game on the WCBN Sports Stream starting with an expanded pregame at 6:45.

Michigan-UConn Recap: An encouraging performance against the #1 team in the country on the road. Michigan led by as much as eight in the first half and had a genuine chance to pull off the upset going down the stretch. The game seemed to turn between four and six minutes left in the 2nd half when the Wolverines failed on three consecutive possesions to score down 57-53. Stu Douglass was terrific yet again, scoring a career-high 20 points (6-8 from 3). If Sims, Novak or LLP gave you a bit more offensively, Michigan would have had their third top five upset this year. I think the parallels to the Maryland game (ACC-Big Ten Challenge) are fair, as in both games Michigan led at the half, played with the road favorite for 35 minutes, before being unable to make a few plays in the end. After the Maryland loss, Michigan beat Duke later that week, a potential forerunner of what could come against MSU this Tuesday.

Why Michigan Will Win: #1-Stu Douglass: As has been rightly pointed out by others, Michigan seems to perform best when the team has a viable and consistent scoring option outside of Manny Harris. Douglass has been red hot in the last two games (12-19 from 3) and adds a different dimension to the Wolverines offense. #2-Raymar Morgan's health: The junior for MSU averages more than twelve points a game, but missed the Spartans last two games due to an illness, specifically mono. Without Morgan or even with Morgan playing at less than 100%, the Spartans are forced to go deeper into their bench and depend on Marquise Gray and Draymond Green to play more minutes and provide more production offensively. #3-Crisler crowd: The third sellout of the season at Crisler Arena is expected on Tuesday night with an attendance of close to 14,000. Due to the unbalanced Big Ten schedule, the Michigan-MSU game on Tuesday night will be the only meeting of the season this year between the two in-state rivals. The Wolverines are 12-2 at home this year and should use the home crowd to their advantage.

Why Michigan Will Lose: #1-Rebounding: As expected, Michigan was soundly out-rebounded by UConn (a 2-1 margin) on Saturday in Storrs and will likely face the same fate in that department on Tuesday. Tom Izzo's teams always take pride in beating their opponents on the glass and this MSU team is no different, leading the nation with a rebounding margin of better than +10. #2-Kalin Lucas: The 2nd team Preseason All-American has a remarkable turnover-assist ratio this year and is averaging 17 points a game in MSU's last twelve. Lucas will be among those in the discussion for Big Ten Player of the Year, with Talor Battle of Penn State and Manny Harris of Michigan. #3-Tired Legs: The MSU game will be Michigan's 3rd in just a seven day span, two of which have been played against top ten teams. Add to that the freshmen wall that LLP & Zach Novak seem to have hit and there is good reason for concern. For MSU, the game at Michigan will be their fifth in the last thirteen days.  It seems pretty simplistic, but the fresher team has a huge edge.

Final 7: Well, it doesn't seem that long ago that I was preparing to call the Michigan-SVSU exhibition game back in November. Now, all that Michigan has gone through this year: their early season success featuring wins over UCLA and Northeastern and a split with Duke to the adversity of losing five of six games in conference where Novak and Manny were ejected in consecutive games comes down to the final seven games of the season. If Michigan wants to assure itself a position on the bracket come Selection Sunday, four wins are necessary to finish the year at 9-9 in the Big Ten. Just three wins and a 8-10 Big Ten record certainly would put Michigan in the conversation, but the Wolverines would have a hard time arguing their case if they were left out. Winning four of the remaining seven will be difficult, as four games are on the road and Wisconsin and Minnesota are practically not winnable. That means, even if Michigan (currently 1-6 on the road) wins at Iowa and Northwestern, it will still have to win two of their three remaining home games (MSU, Minnesota, Purdue), which is easier said than done. Again, if I were putting money on it right now, I'd say Michigan gets two at home and one on the road, leaving them with eight conference wins and squarely on the bubble. I won't even get into the Big Ten Tournament or other teams in the Big Ten (Wisconsin & Penn State) that will be battling with Michigan for the sixth bid out the league. I'll leave that discussion for a later time.

Prediction: While I forecasted a loss in this game a few weeks ago, I firmly believe Michigan has hit their stride and is due for a big win. Heading back to the 2nd half of the Ohio State game two weeks ago, the Wolverines have been playing much better on both ends of the floor. I was genuinely discouraged by the performance of MSU at home against Indiana on Saturday and am concerned about their health and fatigue. I still believe MSU will win the Big Ten, but they can afford a few more losses. Manny goes for 25, DeShawn scores 18 and Zach Gibson (yes, Zach Gibson) scores in double figures.

Michigan 68 Michigan State 63

1 comment:

Matt Boyer said...

Yes! The Gibson Bandwagon is gearing up for another ride...