Bragging rights are always on the line when the famous Michigan vs Michigan State rivalry game takes place but in this particular case, its first place in the Big Ten Conference standings that will be on the line this Saturday as the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines face-off against their in-state rival, the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans.
Now some feel this game won’t be the same or as competitive, without Mitch McGary, Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson in the line-up but that’s no reason to think this won’t be an intense and exciting game. Despite various opinions and predictions for this game, both the Wolverines and Spartans have a chance to win this game but only if they follow certain keys to victory.
Wolverines Keys to Victory
When it comes to winning this game, it all starts with the defensive side of the ball for the Wolverines and their main focus must be to contain point guard Keith Appling. I have said it before and I will say it again, this Spartan team runs off of Appling, so the Wolverines must make a point to keep Appling in front of them and out of the lane. Same goes for Gary Harris, over the last few games, he has come to his own but his jump shot is still inconsistent at times. So the Wolverines must make a point to keep him out of the lane and force him to take and covert tough jump shots.
The Wolverines must also rebound the ball well in this game if they plan to come out victorious and that’s easier said than done considering the Wolverines are ranked 267th in total rebounds per game. Now obviously, they have players like Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Glenn Robinson III who rebound the ball well but for them to have success on the boards against the Spartans, they must be physical and box out. Honestly, with Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson out, the Wolverines will have a chance to win the rebound battle but I repeat they must be physical and box out. Keep in mind, rebounding the ball well on the defensive side of the ball limits second chance opportunities by the Spartans While offensive rebounding helps 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.
When it comes to the offensive side of the ball, it’s all about getting their to young stars going early, those two players being Glenn Robinson III and Nik Stauskas. The Wolverines must get Robinson III involved early and often, especially with Dawson out the line-up. However for Robinson III to be successful, he must take high percentage shots and use his ability to get to the rim and create. The same goes for Staukas, they must get him involved early and often but in his case, he must get going from three-point land. If the Wolverines can do that, they are headed in the right direction.
Overall the offensive goal should be for the Wolverines to take good shoots, connect on open shots and capitalized while in transition. The Wolverines will also need a few role players to step up as in this game, whether it be Derrick Walton Jr., Zak Irvin, Caris LeVert or Jordan Morgan. I personally believe Walton’s streaky but effective play could be the difference maker in this game for the Wolverines.
Spartans Keys to Victory
When it comes to the Spartans, it’s all about Keith Appling and Gary Harris having a good game. With Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson out of the line-up, they will be required to step up even more than they already have. When it comes to Appling, 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. As far as Harris is concerned, he must continue shooting the ball well, early on he struggled to with his jump shot but as of late, he has got going. I anticipate he will be able to drive the lane but if the Wolverines are smart, they will force him to shoot the ball and if they do indeed do that, Harris must be able to connect on his jump shot.
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. The Spartans must also rebound the ball well in this game. I mentioned earlier that the Wolverines are ranked 267th in total rebounds per game, but that doesn’t mean the Spartans should underestimate them when it comes to controlling the boards, especially with Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson out of the line-up. Ultimately, they should be fine on the boards but for them to have success on the boards, others like Denzel Valentine will have to step up. I would even encourage Appling and Harris to hit the boards more in this game.
Defensively, the Spartans must contain the Wolverines star player Nik Staukas. When it comes to containing Staukas, 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 Staukas 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.
Just like the Wolverines, the Spartans will also need a few role players to step up as in this game if they plan to come out victorious. In my opinion, Valentine is that key role player who must step up for the Spartans to win this game. He is a very good yet underrated passer and he is more than capable of scoring the ball whether he is driving to the basket or shooting a jump shot.
Overall, 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. It’s because of that fact that I believe the Wolverines will come out victorious in this game. Normally I would pick the Spartans but with Payne and Dawson being out of the line-up, I wonder whether Appling and Harris will receive enough help from their teammates to come out with a win. I understand that the Wolverines have some ways to go this season but it doesn’t change the fact that this team is coming together and playing good basketball and that’s without Mitch McGary.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit