This season, the Big Ten title race's complexity has almost matched that of the US tax code. In fact, with the leader changing on an almost weekly basis, games have been almost impossible to predict. For instance, a few weeks ago Wisconsin seemed completely out of the Big Ten title race, but following 6 straight wins they're right back in the thick of things. These drastic changes has made virtually every game important, especially since we are nearing the end of the season.
On Sunday, Michigan will enter one of its most important games on the schedule. The Wolverines will travel to face Michigan State in the Breslin Center. Michigan State is essentially tied with Michigan in the Big Ten race and the loser of this game will have a tough time making any run at the title (not that I really believe either team will win the Big Ten). However, this game is significant not only for the Big Ten title race, but because it would mean a fourth straight victory over Michigan State for the Wolverines.
Earlier this year, I talked about how this rivalry had changed permanently. Michigan is no longer a "weak" basketball program that Michigan State could beat up on. This is a real team that had to be reckoned with. Along with this, a victory for Michigan would mean that Michigan State not only got swept by Michigan again, but also lost two straight at home. Michigan State rarely, if ever, loses in the Breslin Center (they're undefeated in Breslin this season) and two losses on their home court against their arch-rival would almost be unfathomable for the Spartan fans.
Michigan State may have more on the line this Sunday than Michigan, which is probably an advantage for the Wolverines, but both teams put a lot of stake into this game. Winning this game would "lock" up a tournament spot for the Wolverines. Even if Michigan lost the rest, I really couldn't see them not getting in with as impressive a run as they've had this season. Having said that, this season does not depend on this game. Michigan has a very impressive RPI right now and should get a great seed come March, as long as there is no epic collapse. I'd say the main things riding on Sunday's game for Michigan are the Big Ten title hopes, a better seed, and pride.
I would re-do the breakdowns I did earlier this season for this game, but almost nothing has changed from the two teams first match-up, except the questions surrounding Draymond Green's status. He was injured in the Spartans last game and although he is projected to play, nobody is quite sure how much he will contribute. The home court will surely help the Spartans, but if Green is a non-factor their hopes for a victory are pretty low. He is EASILY their best player; averaging not only the most minutes on the team, but also the most points, rebounds, steals and blocks. Along with this, he also averages the second-most assists on the team.
To put Green's contributions in perspective, Michigan fans should imagine a player that is like Trey Burke and Zack Novak combined. He not only is the unquestioned leader of the Spartans (also the biggest whiner), but he makes the most in-game contributions as well. If he doesn't play on Sunday or plays and makes little contribution to the game, I think Michigan wins this game. However, if he plays like himself I think the Spartans break the streak. Michigan will make it close, but the Wolverines been pretty questionable on the road this year and the Spartans are dying to beat Michigan on the hardwood.
My Magic Pick is...
Michigan State 65-60 (assuming Green is himself)
Michigan 69-63 (Green injury a significant factor)
Photo Credit: Tony Ding