Michigan State Spartans vs Michigan Wolverines: A Basketball Game That Matters

PJ Sapienza@@pjsapiContributor IIIMarch 4, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 11:  Guard Darius Morris #4 of the Michigan Wolverines drives with the ball against the Iowa Hawkeyes during the first round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 11, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Could this be? Is it real? Finally in this rivalry of interstate colleges we have a basketball game that actually matters between these two teams. On the football field, even if it doesn’t matter in the standings or rankings for one or the other, the game is still huge. In hockey, the games usually carry some level of importance but don’t get much attention. 

On Saturday, finally, we will see a game between these two teams with something on the line. Don’t hurt yourself trying to remember the last time these two played a big game against each other. If there has been a game this big, it was too far long ago for it to matter. 

The game Saturday is likely for a spot in the NCAA tournament. Both teams are sitting on the bubble. Various bracket predictions have them both either among the last couple of teams to make the field or the first couple to miss it. While a win Saturday would not make an invite to the tournament a sure bet, it would take some crazy events among the various conference tournaments to keep them out.

Also, a loss would not completely destroy a team’s chance of making it; however, they would be on the outside looking in and would need a long Big Ten tournament run in order to get back in.

The season hasn’t gone as planned for Michigan State. The Spartans entered the season ranked second, however they have sputtered their way to a 17-12 record (9-8 in the Big Ten).

The team has gone through several ups and downs throughout the season. Coach Tom Izzo kicked Chris Allen off the team prior to the season and in January he dismissed Korie Lucious as well.

On the court, the team has been about as stable as Charlie Sheen. They have played 12 games against teams that are either currently ranked or were ranked at the time of the game. They have only won two of those games and neither of those two teams, Minnesota or Washington, is currently ranked. 

They have been destroyed by such teams as Syracuse (72-58) Wisconsin (82-56) and most recently Purdue (67-47). They have played well in other games taking Duke, Connecticut and Ohio State down to the wire before eventually losing.

Despite this, the Spartans have an RPI of 41 and their strength of schedule is ranked sixth. If they lose this game the will need to piece together at least two wins in the Big Ten Tournament to feel secure. The Spartans have had a magical run for over a decade now, is their star fading?

The Wolverines has spent the last decade languishing in the bottom half of the Big Ten and have only made the tournament once this century. With a crop of talented freshman mixing well with some decent veterans the Wolverines have, at times, shown some life this year. In back-to-back games earlier this season, they took Kansas to overtime then narrowly missed beating Ohio State. 

On the down side, they still haven’t beaten a ranked team this year and have played some clunker games such as losing to a bad Indiana team by 19 points back in January. They do have an 18-12 record (8-9 in Big Ten) with an RPI of 51 and a strength of schedule ranked 16th. 

Despite the better record they need this win slightly more then the Spartans as a loss means that at minimum, they would need to make the Big Ten semifinals and depending on how other bubble teams fare, likely the finals in order to secure a ticket to the big dance.

The Wolverines beat the Spartans in East Lansing earlier this season and would love to go for the first season sweep in recent memory.

The Spartans are definitely a team that is falling and while it may be a stretch to consider the Wolverines to be on the rise, they are at least better than in years past. The Spartans would love to continue to keep the Wolverines down, while they Wolverines want nothing more than to help further the Spartan slide.

As far as the game itself, the Spartans are 3-7 on the road this year while Michigan is 13-5 at home. The Spartans score more in a game but the Wolverines average more points per possession. Michigan relies heavily on the three-point shot. They take almost five more threes per game then the Spartans but they both make the same percentage.  A few key stats:


Michigan Wolverines

Michigan State Spartans

Pts per game



Pts against per game



3pt percentage



3pt defense



Turnovers per game



Rebounds per game



While the Spartans will rebound better, they do not do well controlling the ball. If the Wolverines get hot with their three-point shooting they should win this game. They are the hungrier of the two and with a sweep in sight and home court advantage they should be able to win.

Saturday’s game at Crisler Arena should be a great one. Enjoy it. Games with this much on the line between these two heated rivals are hard to come by. 


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