Rivalry Breakdown: Michigan-Michigan State
Long revered on the gridiron, the decades-long series between Michigan and Michigan State is finally getting some respect on the hardwood as well. The Wolverines and Spartans split 2013-14's Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, and neither side wants any part of sharing the glory with its in-state foes.
Recruiting is always a particularly contentious battleground for opponents who share a backyard, and Michigan State has gotten some gems lately. Senior PG Keith Appling, the leader of a squad with its eyes on the 2014 national title, is just one of the three Michigan Mr. Basketball winners to head to East Lansing since 2009.
Read on for more on Appling and the rest of the stars, games and moments that have made the Maize and Blue's contests with Sparty into the Big Ten’s highest-stakes rivalry of this century.
Wins: Michigan 97, Michigan State 77
Conference Championships (regular season only): Michigan 14, Michigan State 14
NCAA Tournament Championships: Michigan 1, Michigan State 2
Consensus All-Americans (first team): Michigan 8, Michigan State 5
NBA Players Produced: Michigan 43, Michigan State 38
Michigan’s All-Time Starting 5
C Chris Webber
PF Rudy Tomjanovich
SF Cazzie Russell
SG Glen Rice
PG Rumeal Robinson
Webber, the best by far of the Fab Five, rewrote the school records for shot-blocking while dominating as a scorer and rebounder. Tomjanovich, long before his coaching days, scored 1,800 points while setting a still-standing program record for rebounds.
Rice and Russell could both have played either wing spot with equal ease, and both were lethal scorers. Three-point marksman Rice, the leader of the 1989 national champs, holds the school’s career points record, while Russell’s 27 points per game (over a three-year career) top the charts in that category by a mile.
Robinson is a narrow choice over Gary Grant, who put up some amazing numbers in his own right, but the former holds a trump card: he hit the championship-winning free throws in overtime to beat Seton Hall in the 1989 NCAA final.
Michigan State’s All-Time Starting 5
C Greg Kelser
PF Draymond Green
SF Johnny Green
SG Shawn Respert
PG Magic Johnson
Even at a school loaded with great floor generals, the easy pick here is Johnson, the triple-double machine who led State to its first national title.
Kelser, a sidekick on that team only because of Magic's unparalleled greatness, stands second in school history in rebounding and fourth in scoring.
Both Greens are primarily rebounders, with the 6’7” Draymond and the 6’5” Johnny (who led the program’s first Final Four run in 1957) ranking first and third in program history in that department. Draymond is also third in blocks, having just been passed in 2013-14 by Adreian Payne.
Respert, the first half of the Fire and Ice backcourt of the early 1990s (along with Eric Snow), was a devastating long-range shooter who broke Steve Smith’s career scoring record before the ink was dry on it.
Most Iconic Coaches
Johnny Orr holds the career wins record for Michigan, but he gets edged out as the program’s defining coach by Steve Fisher. In just eight seasons (plus one postseason at the start of his career), Fisher won the school’s only national title and made it to two more championship games. His assembly of the Fab Five recruiting class is the biggest event in Wolverines basketball history.
Sparty’s favorite coach is a coin toss between its two national title winners, Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo. Izzo has the superior career numbers, but mentor Heathcote is the pick here because he took a program that had been ignored for a decade and built it into an NCAA champion in the space of three seasons.
Most Memorable Games
3. Michigan State 70, Michigan 59 (1992)
Michigan’s Fab Five had won in overtime in East Lansing earlier in the year, but the Spartans (now ranked 12th to the Wolverines’ 17th) had an elite freshman of their own. Shawn Respert, who would famously bedevil U-M as a senior, provided a taste of things to come in taking down Jalen Rose and the Wolverines on their home floor.
2. Michigan 70, Michigan State 69 (1957)
Michigan State, led by uber-rebounder Johnny Green up front, won the Big Ten with a 10-4 record on its way to its first-ever Final Four in 1957. Even so, two of those league losses came against Michigan, including this one in East Lansing to a mediocre Wolverines team whose best player (senior captain Ron Kramer) would attain slightly greater success as a Pro Bowl tight end on Vince Lombardi’s Packers.
1. Michigan 58, Michigan State 57 (2013)
For the second time in history (and the second time in the 2012-13 season), both Michigan and Michigan State were ranked in the top 10 for this meeting. Sparty had blown the doors off Michigan at the Breslin Center, but they had a battle on their hands in the return bout in Ann Arbor.
No. 9 Michigan State chipped away at a 10-point second-half deficit, tying the game in the final minute on Keith Appling’s free throws. But, with a chance to hold for a game-winning shot, Appling got stripped clean by eventual Wooden Award winner Trey Burke, who drove for the go-ahead dunk to put No. 4 Michigan over the top.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Michigan Fan
The first-ever postseason meeting between the Spartans and Wolverines was a long time coming. The Big Ten tournament came into existence in 1998, and even then, it took until the 2013-14 season before the Michigan-Michigan State series got a third installment in a year.
For Maize and Blue fans, it wasn’t exactly a game worth waiting for.
After winning their first outright conference crown in almost three decades, the Wolverines got their heads handed to them in Indy. Adreian Payne (18 points, nine boards) took it to an overmatched U-M front line while the Spartans’ D held Nik Stauskas to 4-of 14 field-goal accuracy in a 69-55 pummeling.
Moment You Shouldn’t Mention to a Michigan State Fan
Spartans fans love to remember the glory of the 1978-79 championship squad. That team’s visit to Ann Arbor, however, tends to get swept under the rug, and for good reason.
Despite a valiant effort from Greg Kelser (22 points, nine boards), the Spartans endured a rare off day from superstar Magic Johnson as they staggered to their worst offensive output of the entire season. The Wolverines, happy to slow the game down and let big Phil Hubbard play ball control, eked out a 49-48 victory that helped force State into a three-way tie for that season’s Big Ten crown.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Michigan
Once Mateen Cleaves got rolling as Michigan State’s floor leader, few opponents could stand in his way. That went double for the archrival Wolverines, who suffered through one of their worst losing streaks in the series at Cleaves’ hands.
Starting in his sophomore year (1997-98), the dynamic point guard won five straight games over Michigan, capped by a 114-63 annihilation on Senior Day at the Breslin Center. It would’ve been bad enough for Cleaves to finish breaking the Big Ten’s career assist record against the Wolverines—which he did, with 769—but he also set a new single-game mark by handing out 20 in just the one afternoon.
Public Enemy No. 1 for Michigan State
A decade before the Fab Five were even born, Cazzie Russell led Michigan to its first two Final Four appearances. The scoring machine’s prime in Ann Arbor coincided with some of the Spartans’ worst seasons in program history, hardly a combination that did State any favors.
Russell went 4-1 in his career against Sparty, capturing a 103-98 thriller in overtime in East Lansing during his dazzling junior year. Russell went for 40 points in that game, one of four times he would post at least 32 in this series.
Michigan’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
The Spartans and Wolverines have been facing off since 1909 and playing in the same conference since 1950. In that amount of time, both teams have had plenty of streaks and slumps in their overall performance, but the head-to-head record hasn’t exactly evened out.
Michigan holds a dominant 20-game edge in the overall series, a lead boosted by the only double-digit winning streak from either team (way back in the 1920s). With John Beilein now leading a resurgence against Tom Izzo’s recent hegemony in the rivalry, State won’t be catching up in the win column anytime soon.
Michigan State’s Biggest Claim to Bragging Rights
The race for national success among these Big Ten powers has been a dead heat, with Final Fours, conference titles and national championships almost even. Or they would be, if so many of Michigan’s best seasons hadn’t been vacated in the Ed Martin booster scandal.
Between Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo, Michigan State has been a paragon of on-court success in a major conference without incurring the wrath of the NCAA. Measured against the tarnished reputation of the Wolverines' glory days, Sparty comes out with both wins and pride intact.
The Final Word
With Michigan back on the rise, this rivalry has never been more intense than it has in the last few seasons. That crucible could well yield a new front-runner in just a few more years, but for now, the Spartans are still clinging to the lead.
Tom Izzo’s impressive 21-14 mark against U-M outweighs the distant past of a pre-Depression Wolverines winning streak. Add in the fact that many of Michigan’s greatest games have been expunged from the records (leaving the “official” series at a more competitive 90-74), and the Spartans get the pick here.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!