Jan 22, 2014; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Caris LeVert (23) dunks in the first half against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Crisler Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State -- Preview

GBMWolverine Basketball TidbitsPosted at 4:00pm — 1/25/2014

Michigan Basketball: Michigan at Michigan State — Preview

Two Teams Enter, One Team Leaves- Undefeated In League Play That Is Unique Circumstances Abound

As if by some unforeseen force, the Michigan-Michigan State match-up once again takes on a significant magnitude as the Wolverines travel to East Lansing today.

Michigan State has been ranked in the top five all year, and many rightfully point to the Spartans as a real threat to win the national title. The Spartans are 7-0 in the league, despite the injury to Adreian Payne, the league’s premier big man. Coach Izzo has stated Payne’s chances of playing against Michigan are slim to none. Do not assume this is a smoke screen. If Payne reinjures the foot, the result could be another two or three weeks on the shelf.

Dec 17, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reacts to a play during the 1st half of a game against the North Florida Ospreys at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 17, 2013; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans head coach Tom Izzo reacts to a play during the 1st half of a game against the North Florida Ospreys at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Now adding to the game circumstances is the news that Branden Dawson will not play in Saturday’s game. It has been stated in press stories that Dawson became upset with Dan Dakich’s comments and punched out a table, the result being a broken hand that has since undergone surgery.

This leaves the Spartans without their two most physical inside players, and two players capable of crushing Michigan on the low post and dominate offensive rebounds.

Discount the effects of these injuries and indeed that is not a bizarre statement. Michigan State is still capable of putting many very physical and very skilled players on the floor, just not as many. The Spartans will play as if they are defending the famous pass that few can spell located in Greece (Thermopylae). The game could very well be brutal and even nasty.

Michigan State’s guards pose a real problem for any team. Gary Harris is a big guard, one with obvious NBA talent level. He can score inside, outside, and mix it up on defense. The Michigan player guarding Harris needs to have total focus and cannot fall asleep for a nanosecond. Harris may hit the boards more than normal with the injuries to the bigs, especially if the Spartans fall behind.

Jan 21, 2014; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Keith Appling (11) /saves ball against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2nd half of a game at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. MSU won 71-66. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Senior Keith Appling is playing the best basketball of his Spartan career. His shot selection has improved, his defense is adequate, and Appling is providing the best floor generalship the Spartans have had in several years. A player to keep an eye on is Travis Trice. The view here is that if he has a big game, the Wolverines are in trouble.

Inside the Spartans will rely on system player Matt Costello, who also loves to play the physical game.

Two swingmen, Denzel Valentine and Russell Byrd, will have much to say about which team gains the victory.

Michigan State will dig down and play tough half-court defense. Michigan has done a better job lately of running a half-court offense.

The keys to the game as seen by GBMWolverine are listed below.
1) Michigan State may be the best transition offense in the country, certainly among the vey best. One-half of a second can be the difference between a quick three-pointer and slowing the Spartan offense into half-court mode. Michigan has had difficulty at times against a good transition team. Having said this, the Wolverines played much better transition defense against Iowa earlier in the week. Michigan cannot afford to loaf down the floor not seeing the ball, or congratulate each other while the opponents pass them, or make gestures of three point makes while transitioning. If Michigan clearly loses the transition game, the chances for victory on the road dwindle down to well south of the 50-50 line.

Jan 18, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Jon Horford (15) looks to pass during the game with the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. Michigan defeated Wisconsin 77-70. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

2) Michigan will have a slightly deeper team, notice the word slightly. The Wolverines may wish to move the ball post haste. With two bigs hurt, Michigan State will probably want to move the ball post haste, especially if Michigan shows a weakness getting back into defensive mode. So, how the coaches rotate players into the final five minutes may take on more importance than usual.

3) This game will be physical, and it will be up to the referees as to the eventual extent. Michigan State will not pass up inside opportunities, regardless of who is hurt. Michigan is a team that is very easy for an offense to get the ball inside. Appling is doing a great job of penetrating the lane and will be a real threat. Besides Harris, Appling will probably be the Spartan that causes the most damage to Michigan’s defense. Michigan’s no-foul strategy may take a beating, or it may pay off with having Morgan and Horford in good shape heading down the stretch. Clearly, Izzo knows if Michigan’s bigs are removed from the game equation, the Wolverines are in a heap of real trouble.

Michigan will run the two-man game. Will the Spartans be very physical on switches and fighting through screens? Will a high level of physical play throw off the Wolverine offense? To what level will the officials allow tough play without blowing the whistle?

4) Can Michigan absorb the negative psyche of a certain to be brutal environment? This group has come through the ritual of fire lately and should keep good poise. Spartan fans attending the game are expecting a blood in the water reaction from the wounded Spartans.

5) Michigan cannot have the attitude of hey two out of three in this stretch is not bad. Michigan cannot even afford to think about being out of gas. They are young and with strong legs, so play hard, period. There is a clear opportunity here for Michigan and great play could yield a win. Even with the injuries the Spartans are favored by most.

6) There are obvious intangibles: the ability to withstand a big blow by the Spartans, the ability to not have an extended cold streak, the ability to dig down and play the best defense of the year, and the ability to maximize the opportunity by not dishing up unforced turnovers and taking ill-advised shots. No soft, lazy one-handed passes or run breaking poor shots please.

We will see tonight, Michigan State is tough, and Michigan is starting to get a little tougher, but will never be called maulers or bullies.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Doc4Blu

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