Michigan State Basketball: How the Spartans Stack Up vs. the Wolverines
The rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan is one of college hoops’ best in any season, but it’s going to be even bigger than usual this year. Both the Spartans and the Wolverines have legitimate Final Four aspirations, and their head-to-head meetings will have a lot to say about who gets crowned as the Big Ten champion.
Both teams are depending heavily on elite recruiting classes, but there’s plenty of returning talent as well. Nowhere is the latter fact more evident than at point guard, where last year’s breakout stars—State’s Keith Appling and UM’s Trey Burke—are this year’s experienced leaders.
Herein, a position-by-position breakdown of how the two teams will match up and which side will have the edge in 2012-13.
Point Guard: Keith Appling vs. Trey Burke
Keith Appling’s emergence as a floor leader was the biggest factor in Michigan State’s rise to the Big Ten title a year ago. The then-sophomore placed second on the roster with 11.4 points per game while dishing out a team-high 3.9 assists.
However, Michigan’s Trey Burke made an even bigger splash in his first season of college ball. Burke paced the Wolverines with 14.8 points and 4.6 assists per contest, not to mention draining 34.8 percent of his three-point tries.
Shooting Guard: Gary Harris vs. Tim Hardaway Jr.
No single player carries more of the Spartans’ hopes for 2012-13 than prize recruit Gary Harris. The 6’4” freshman is a skilled, physical defender who can also score from anywhere on the court—especially if he gets a look from beyond the arc.
Tim Hardaway Jr. hasn’t shown the same affinity for the three-point line (he shot just .283 from deep last season), but he’s still a fine scorer who poured in 14.6 points a game as a sophomore.
He’s also a big-body guard at 6’6”, 200 lbs, and he uses his athleticism to great effect as a defender.
Small Forward: Branden Dawson vs. Glenn Robinson III
After a quietly effective freshman year, Branden Dawson is one of several Spartans who must raise his game to make up for the departure of All-American Draymond Green.
The 6’6” Dawson shot .577 from the field a year ago and grabbed 4.5 rebounds a night, but he’ll need to boost his scoring average from the 8.4 points per game he managed in 2011-12.
Scoring isn’t likely to be a problem for Glenn Robinson III in his first season of college ball. The son of the former NBA All-Star is a 6’6” high flyer with an outstanding shooting touch.
Power Forward: Derrick Nix vs. Jordan Morgan
Playing behind Draymond Green isn’t a great way to rack up lots of minutes, but Derrick Nix showed impressive potential in the playing time he did get. The hulking (6’9”, 270 lb) forward averaged 8.1 points and 3.8 rebounds a night as a junior.
Jordan Morgan has a good deal more experience than Nix as he enters his third year as a starter, but he doesn’t have a whole lot of productivity to show for it.
Morgan (a big body himself at 6’8”, 250 lbs) muscled his way to 7.3 points and a team-high 5.6 rebounds a game in 2011-12.
Center: Adreian Payne vs. Mitch McGary
In his first season as a starter, Adreian Payne did exactly what the Spartans needed him to do last year: rebound and play defense. The 6’10”, 240 lb sophomore averaged 4.2 boards and 1.1 blocks a night while also contributing seven points per contest.
Mitch McGary doesn’t quite have Payne’s bulk at 6’10”, 225 lbs, but the Wolverine freshman brings similar energy and hustle, as well as impressive rebounding instincts.
Where McGary sets himself apart, though, is his scoring punch, as he’s dangerous finishing around the rim or facing the basket and knocking down jumpers.
Standout Spartans reserve Travis Trice—he of the .405 three-point shooting—has a year of experience behind him, and he’s now got plenty of help.
Michigan State's deep recruiting class includes a trio of promising forwards—Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and Denzel Valentine—who will inject some scoring punch into the blue-collar frontcourt.
Michigan doesn’t have the same wealth of options, though freshman Nick Stauskas will add another shooter to the scoring-rich group of wings.
The big question for the Wolverines is whether rising junior Jon Horford (who missed most of last year with a foot injury) is ready to step up as an extra big man behind Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan.
Spartans on Offense
With superior depth and a point guard who loves to run, the fast break will be Michigan State’s friend in this matchup.
In the half-court game, Gary Harris will be the center of attention (a statement which will apply regardless of whom the Spartans face), and even with Tim Hardaway Jr. guarding him, Harris will get his points.
The Spartans’ perennial success on the offensive boards will also be a major factor here.
Jordan Morgan and Mitch McGary are fine defensive rebounders, but if even one failed box-out turns into a bad foul on a Wolverine big man, the momentum could swing to the Spartans quickly.
Wolverines on Offense
A large measure of Michigan’s success or failure is going to depend on whether their jump shots are falling.
On a good shooting night, this is a lineup that can outscore any team in the country, with any of four starters easily capable of breaking out for a 20-point game.
Michigan State will need to use its size and muscle (particularly up front with Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne) to keep the Wolverines from getting into a rhythm offensively.
If Keith Appling has a big game pressuring Trey Burke, that would give the Spartans a much better shot.
These two teams are so closely matched that home court advantage is likely to decide the regular-season meetings. If they meet a third time in the Big Ten Tournament, though, the neutral court will likely favor a more experienced Michigan State squad.
The Spartans are the tougher defensive team, and more often than not, that’s the deciding factor in a postseason game.
In a low-scoring slugfest—just the kind of contest the Big Ten Tournament is likely to produce—the Spartans are better equipped to come out on top.