This will be the first time that Michigan and Michigan State will meet in the Big Ten tourney. And, it seems fitting that the initial encounter between these rivals should take place in the title game. It’s No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 3 Michigan State on Sunday.
Michigan is aiming for its first Big Ten tourney title since winning the inaugural event in 1998. That’s only time the Wolverines have been in the final. Michigan State won this event the last time it was in Indianapolis in 2012. The Spartans also won in 1999 and 2000.
The Wolverines won both meetings this season, taking an 80-75 decision in East Lansing and a 79-70 game in Ann Arbor.
Here is a look at the matchup.
Key matchup outside: Nik Stauskas vs. Gary Harris. The star power won’t get much better than this. These were two of the top contenders for Big Ten Player of the Year. And Stauskas won. Each is an excellent shooter, but an edge must go to Stauskas. Each can work well off the dribble, but an edge must go to Harris. Who will outscore the other? One thing we do know: Harris is the better defender.
Key matchup inside: Adreian Payne vs. Jordan Morgan. This battle down low will be fun. Each has an array of low-post moves, but Payne is the more polished offensive player. He also has the ability to draw out his defender and drain the 3-pointer. Morgan must be strong and protect the paint, scoring when he can off put-backs.
X-factor for Michigan State: Branden Dawson. Does Michigan really have anyone who can match up with this beast? Dawson is a physical freak who runs the floor with aplomb. It’s impossible to keep him off the glass, and he’s like a jaguar in the open court on the fast break. Strong, fast, tough, skilled … the quintessential Spartan.
X-factor for Michigan: Caris LeVert. The long, lithe LeVert may be the most improved player in the Big Ten. He’s an excellent weapon on the wing who can run the court, handle the ball, shoot and work off the dribble. What he lacks in strength/muscle he compensates for with speed/athletic ability.
Key number Michigan State: 30, points in the paint for the Spartans in their win vs. Wisconsin. The Spartans must assert their advantage on the interior vs. Michigan, which had just 18 points in the paint vs. Ohio State.
Key number: Michigan: 12, three-pointers it hit vs. Ohio State. This is one of the top shooting clubs in the Big Ten. The Wolverines will need the likes of Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and LeVert—among others—to be in rhythm from long distance to help negate MSU’s inside edge.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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