Before the Super Bowl festivities start Sunday night, the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans will host the No. 22 Michigan Wolverines at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, MI in a crucial Big Ten conference match-up.
The Wolverines prevailed at home less than three weeks ago by taking down the Spartans 60-59 after MSU forward Draymond Green was unable to sink a game winning jumper with time winding down. There's no doubt that that squandered opportunity is still weighing heavily on the senior, as well as the rest of the MSU squad, as their maize and blue foes make their way to the Breslin Center.
Green will reportedly take the court after being deemed day-to-day with a sprained knee following MSU's despicable loss against the Illini in Champaign on Tuesday. The Spartans shot just 24 percent from the field in what was arguably one of the teams worst offensive displays in program history.
The green and white will have to rebound quickly from that ugly loss to keep pace with a Michigan squad who can put up points in a hurry with a barrage of outside shooting. The Wolverines enter this one on the heels of a big win against Indiana and will carry a lot of momentum with that victory.
With the Spartans clear leader less than 100 percent entering the contest, someone will likely have to pick up the slack on both sides of the floor. The most likely candidate to do just that appears to be freshman Branden Dawson.
Dawson, a true freshman from Gary, IN, has stepped his game up over the past few weeks averaging 14 points and almost seven rebounds per game since these two teams last met. The young forward has shown tenacity on the boards on both sides of the court as well as an ability to jump out of the gym and has Spartan fans eager to watch his development continue.
In their last meeting, the tough Spartan defense was able to hold U of M's three-point shooting in check, keeping them under 30 percent for the game. As this is a key to their offensive game plan, it will take a similar effort from Izzo's group if they hope to get redemption in this rematch.
Despite that stat, and the fact that the Spartans out-rebounded the Wolverines 31-15 in that meeting, they still came up short due in large part to the outstanding individual effort of Michigan's freshman PG Trey Burke. Burke shot 8-11 from the field in a 20 point effort and appeared to be the best player on the court for throughout the game.
His timely shooting and minimal mistakes were enough for Michigan to eke out a victory at home, but on the road against a hostile MSU crowd it will be much more difficult for the young man to carry all that weight.
An important piece to the puzzle will surely be the effectiveness of MSU's big men down low and their ability to take advantage of an undersized Michigan frontcourt which rarely features anyone over 6'8".
The Spartans tandem of 6'10" Adreian Payne and 6'9" Derrick Nix have both shown improvement throughout the year and, if they can score some put-backs on offensive rebounds, they will put a lot of pressure on Michigan's shooters to keep up the pace in the scoring department.
Look for an increased defensive focus on Burke, as he was the key to the Spartan demise in the first game. If he is held in check then it will take a substantial effort from Tim Hardaway Jr. or a combination of Wolverine shooters to keep up with what could be an impending offensive onslaught by the Spartans.
Tom Izzo's club will be looking for redemption for their terrible offensive performance against Illinois as well as the loss to Michigan earlier in the year, and should come out focused enough to ride the cheers of the Izzone to victory on Super Bowl Sunday.