Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Tale of Two Brothers: Michigan v. MSU Preview

After watching what seemed to be "upset Saturday" for the Big Ten, much of what was expected for Tuesday's match-up between Michigan and Michigan State changed significantly.  The game was expected to be a show-down between two of the hottest teams in the country, but after two losses, it looks to be two teams trying to regain their swagger.  Michigan lost a 75-53 "no show" against Iowa and Michigan State lost  81-74 against Northwestern.

Granted, Iowa and Northwestern have shown some promise in some games this season, but frankly, these were games neither team should have lost.  Neither Iowa or Northwestern were ranked and both teams entered with losing streaks.  However, in hindsight, these results may not signify any trend throughout this season.  Michigan was entering Iowa City with little rest and Michigan State faced Northwestern in what I would call a classic "trap" game.  Michigan State was ranked top 10, on a hot streak, probably looking forward to Michigan, and facing a Northwestern team that lost some close games to some tough opponents.

So, what does this mean for Tuesday's match-up between in-state rivals?  Well, the game's excitement level will likely be reduced slightly (not that I won't be pumped).  If neither team had lost, they would have entered the game with a combined 19 straight victories and both teams would have likely been either in the top 10 or very close.  This would have certainly been exciting, but it's still sure to be a great game on Tuesday night.

Michigan State has had an impressive run this season.  Turning what was predicted to be a rough season into a potential banner year.  However, Michigan is no slouch either.  The Wolverines are still 14-4 and have great potential for a good run this year.  In fact, Michigan has some tough opponents in its remaining schedule, but it gets Michigan State, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio State, and Purdue at home.  Certainly that's an extremely tough schedule, especially considering there's road games as well, but there's no reason to think Michigan can't win some of those home games, which would make for a sure tournament birth.

So let's match-up these teams and see who's better:

Although the stats make Michigan State appear to have a much better offense than Michigan, this may not tell the whole story.  Michigan State is averaging 76.8 points per game and Michigan is averaging just 69.9 ppg, but the way in which the teams score is quite different.  The most obvious way to see this is in their offensive attempts.

The first place to look is in field goal attempts.  Michigan State has attempted 984 field goals so far this season and Michigan has attempted just 922.  However, Michigan has attempted 400 three-pointers and Michigan State has attempted only 260.  That should send a message to anyone.  Michigan State likes to play interior basketball, while Michigan works its offense from the outside.  In fact, offensive rebounding also signals this difference.  Michigan State averages 11.8 offensive rebounds per game while Michigan averages just 8.8 rebounds.  With Michigan State's preference for interior basketball, getting these rebounds and "second-chance" points will be a key to the game.

I certainly would like to think Michigan's offense is better than MSU's, but that would be untrue, especially in this game.  Michigan State's interior play is probably going to expose Michigan's lack of quality "big men".  Michigan State averages significantly more points from the free throw line than Michigan and they are almost certainly going to get some key fouls Tuesday night.  With Horford's injury, Michigan is going to be limited to two big men (Morgan and Smotrycz) for most of the night.  McLimans is a decent player and has potential, but if he has to face off against Green consistently, Michigan will be in trouble.

Advantage: Michigan State

Once again, the raw stats imply that Michigan State will be better defensively, but I don't think they are quite accurate for this game.  Both teams are virtually tied for points allowed per game with 59.6 and 59.8, but Michigan State allows a lower percentage of shots to score than Michigan.  MSU allows 37.4% of field goals and 29.4% of three-pointers.  Michigan allows 40.9% of field goals and 35.1% of three-pointers.  This difference is typically not that important, but what is significant is that Michigan State has been pretty good at defending from outside the arc this year, which is key when facing Michigan and its three point offense.

Michigan State will probably do a good job at slowing down Michigan's three-point attack, but I see Michigan doing a good job with Michigan State as well.  When Michigan State had to face the 1-3-1 defense (Michigan's system) in Northwestern, they certainly struggled as they scored below their season average and lost.  Interior defense will also be key for Michigan and how they address Draymond Green.  They are probably going to have to either dedicate themselves to stopping him or stopping everybody else.

To me, both defenses are solid and should be set-up well, but I think Michigan's 1-3-1 defense will give Michigan State some trouble.  Even though Michigan has not looked fantastic in their last few games, they've allowed an average of 60 points per game (including the overtime win against Northwestern).  This is certainly below Michigan State's average of 76.8 points per game, which makes me think Michigan's defense will have the better night.

Advantage: Michigan

Both teams will be entering the game after a disappointing loss on the road.  Michigan's loss was probably more disappointing and a worse overall, but I see little difference between the losses for this category.  However, this is a big rivalry game and will probably be significant in determining the conference championship.  Both teams appear in the conference race right now and a win would do much in propelling one towards that goal.

Michigan was able to sweep MSU last year, but these are not the same Spartans or Wolverines.  Much of the teams have changed and their abilities have certainly changed.  Regardless, both will be fired up for Tuesday's match-up, probably removing much of the lag from the Saturday losses.  The game is at Crisler, which should be maized out and rockin'.  Crisler has been lackluster for several games this season, but the team is still undefeated at home and this is a big game.  Ohio State may be the ultimate rival, especially in football, but the Michigan v. Michigan State basketball rivalry is a very big deal.  Home crowd and winning streak clearly go in Michigan's favor.

Advantage: Michigan

This should likely be a close game throughout.  If Michigan gets into early foul trouble, especially in the inside, MSU will have a significant advantage, but if Michigan is doing well at stopping Michigan State's inside offense and knocking down some threes, the Wolverines will be in good shape.  Look for a back and forth game that comes down to the final few minutes and some key free throws.  Michigan has been very good at hitting free throws late in the game, which may ultimately prove to be the deciding factor

I think Michigan is able to pull out the "W" in very tight fashion.  I fully admit that this game could go either way, considering the talent of both teams, but the only thing I think that gives Michigan the advantage is the location of the game.  Michigan has played great at home, especially defensively, and I expect that to continue on Tuesday night.  Let's hope the streak extends to three games in a row!

Prediction: Michigan 72-70 OT

Photo Credit: Melanie Maxwell

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