1. Saturday's game between Michigan and Michigan State is receiving a lot of attention, but how big is this game in reality?
Thomas Beindit - This game is huge. Not only is it the biggest game so far in conference season, but it also has rivalry and tourney implications. This win will massively influence who wins the conference title and could really set up the winner well for the rest of the year.
Tim Beck - This may be the biggest game of the B1G so far.
Aaron Yorke - This game is bigger than the biggest thing you can think of. It's bigger than Saturn and Jupiter and all their moons combined! The fate of the universe depends on this game.
Josh Stern- Huge! Two undefeated games, in-state rivals, and Branden Dawson giving Michigan a huge advantage. Michigan started off #7 in the country, and Coach Beilein and co. are dying to get back to that spot.
Jason Dorow - As far as regular season play goes, it doesn't get much bigger than this. Two undefeated in-state rivals facing off to see who's at the top of the B1G.
2. The big storyline is that Branden Dawson will be out for the game. How much will this impact the outcome?
Thomas Beindit - One of the great things about the modern media is that they get information out quickly, but the other negative is that it is often overanalyzed. Do not get me wrong. Losing Dawson is going to have a real impact on the game, but Dawson is (at best) the 4th best player on MSU. This isn't Doug McDermott or something. Having said that, it's going to be especially important on the glass. Dawson was a great rebounder for his size and it's going to be difficult for Izzo to find a guy to replace him that can hit the glass and also be that solid on offense and defense.
Tim Beck - This is a big impact for the Spartans. To me, this is the biggest storyline of the game. Branden Dawson is the closest thing to Glenn Robinson III for Michigan State. Who will replace Dawson on the court, and will that person be able to effectively guard GR3? Does Izzo go big or try to go small and have Denzel Valentine guard GR3? I don't think Kaminski will be able to stay in front of GR3. Denzel will probably have his hands full with the B1G POTW, Nik Stauskas.
Aaron Yorke - I think the presence of Dawson would make a pretty big difference. Michigan has trouble dealing with athletic big men as evidenced by Melsahn Basabe's dominance early in the Iowa game. While Dawson is the size of a wing, he rebounds and scores inside like a big man. If both Dawson and Payne are missing, it will be tough for Michigan State to challenge the Wolverines inside, and they will be forced to rely heavily on Keith Appling and Gary Harris.
Josh Stern- Again, huge! Michigan State's depth seems to be an issue, and this injury does not help at all. I believe that Kaminski will start in his place, and he just does not bring nearly the same type of offense or defense that Dawson has. Robinson will be able to take advantage of that, and hopefully Kaminski's switches will free up other shooters.
Jason Dorow - Dawson's absence is huge if Payne is also out. Despite being the size of a wing, Dawson is MSU's leading rebounder. He also is a trustworthy scorer and extremely efficient, shooting over 60% for the season. Dawson will be missed by MSU, but he certainly isn't the be all and end all for the Spartans.
3. Adreian Payne is also questionable for Saturday's game. How could this impact the outcome?
Thomas Beindit - If Payne does end up playing (which looks unlikely) he would be the best frontcourt player on the floor and would minmize a lot of the rebounding losses of Dawson. Without him, MSU is really going to have to reach into that bench. The key here is not the starters because MSU's backups are at least decent, but it's when those guys have to come off the floor. You are no longer reaching into the backups, but the 3rd stringers. Doing it at 1 position is ok, but 2 positions that semi overlap really starts to hurt the team's performance..
Chris Kay- If Payne were to be playing then MSU would have a distinct advantage over guys like Morgan and Horford. Those two have played well stepping in for McGary, but they don't have the talent to match up with Payne. His range would bring a Michigan big man away from the basket and make the Wolverines more susceptible to offensive rebounds.
Tim Beck - I agree with Chris here. With Payne, MSU is a title contender. Without Payne, they are not quite there. Payne would be a problem for any of the Michigan bigs, including Mitch McGary if he were healthy. Without Payne, I don't see the other big fellas with distinct advantages over Morgan and Horford and Beilfeldt.
Aaron Yorke - Well if Payne plays, then Michigan State shouldn't worry too much about Dawson being out, although I like how Dawson's inside presence opens up some perimeter opportunities for Payne. However, with Dawson certain to be out, Payne could provide the size and offense on the inside that the Spartans need to defeat Michigan.
Josh Stern- Payne isn't gonna play. Obviously the Spartans would love for him to even hobble around for 10 minutes or so, but he's not ready. If he plays, he has a minimal impact. A good idea for Izzo to bring it up, but it's not gonna happen.
Jason Dorow - Payne gives MSU a big advantage in the paint and on the boards against Michigan. Even if he plays, he probably won't be 100%, but just having him in the game for 15 or 20 minutes could bring MSU the W.
4. What is the matchup of the game?
Thomas Beindit - Before this week, I would have said it was Nik Stauskas and Gary Harris. However, with the injury to Dawson, it's probably GR3 and Kaminski. Let's be realistic, MSU is probably going to lose that matchup, but if they can at least make it close and keep GR3 from scoring too much, it would go a long way in minimizing the loss of Dawson and really putting them in a position to win.
Chris Kay- Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas has to be the big matchup of the game with both players being the best scorer on each team. It wouldn't be bold to say that whoever plays better between these two will lead his team to a win.
Tim Beck - The key matchup will be whoever replaces Branden Dawson to guard GR3. If it is Valentine or they slide a Kaminski or Gauna or Costello down. If Michigan State guards Nik Stauskas with Gary Harris and guards Caris LaVert with Valentine, then one of the bigs will have to come over and guard GR3. This will create a miss-match offensively for Michigan.
Aaron Yorke - Nik Stauskas versus Keith Appling and Gary Harris is the matchup of the game. When Mitch McGary was taken out of the Michigan lineup due to surgery, it was Stauskas who stepped up and saved Michigan's season. He can create his own shot as well as set the table for others, and the Canadian is lethal off of the pick-and-roll. Because of Stauskas' shooting ability, Appling and Harris will either need to switch off of Stauskas or fight their way over every screen. How the Spartans defend Stauskas will play a major role in determining the outcome.
Josh Stern- Guards. Michigan will start Albrecht/Walton, LeVert and Stauskas, while Michigan State starts Appling, Harris and Valentine. The two backcourts are both loaded with talent, and are crucial to their team's success. While Michigan State has more of a "next-man-up" approach, Michigan will rely heavily on Stauskas for point production, and whoever guards himm
Jason Dorow - There's no question; it's Gary Harris against Nik Stauskas. Each team's star player going at it one-on-one on the big stage. Expect both of them to have strong games. They both show up in the clutch.
5. What would a win on Saturday mean for the Wolverines?
Thomas Beindit - From Michigan's perspective, this is a no lose situation. Michigan has already beaten two Top 10 teams this week and another would just be icing on the cake (though some pretty good icing). However, it would be very significant for the Big Ten title race. If Michigan won, it would put them a game up on Sparty and 2 games up on the rest of the conference. Michigan already has a lot of the tough games out of the way and they certainly have an easier draw going forward than MSU. Win and it's hard not to see a banner coming in Crisler.
Chris Kay- Remember when we were worried that Michigan wouldn't get some big wins for their NCAA resume? Well, that's no longer a worry. With wins over Iowa and Wisconsin, this win isn't as "important" in terms of getting in the tournament, but more about seeding. If Michigan were to win then you'd have to consider them a top 10 team.
Tim Beck - A win for Michigan would be huge. We are now considering Michigan a legit threat to win the conference, something most of us here at BT Powerhouse didn't have much confidence in (see Weekly Power Rankings). The win would also be the 3rd in a row over top 10 teams, two of which would have came on the road. Nationally, at this time of year, it is almost unheard of. Especially in the best conference in the land.
Aaron Yorke - Defeating the rival Spartans in East Lansing would mean that Michigan is not just a program that got lucky because Trey Burke turned out to be way better than anyone initially thought. It would prove to the nation that John Beilein is putting together a consistent winner that can consistently compete for the Big Ten title.
Josh Stern- After a rocky start, a win would be the next step to securing a top 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Getting that seed is the key to getting through the first weekend, and after that anything is possible. Just ask Trey Burke. It would also give the Wolverines massive confidence heading into the next stretch of B1G games being 7-0 and beating two top-5 teams on their home courts. Nik Stauskas would start to not only get B1G POTY looks, but also NPOTY as wel.
Jason Dorow - Michigan has already solidified themselves as a threat to win the conference. They are definitely in the conference's top three. If Payne does not play though, a win does not mean that much. Sure, they will be in first place, and they went on the road and beat MSU. But the Spartans are not anywhere near their full potential with Payne and Dawson on the bench. When healthy, MSU would still be considered the best in the B1G.
6. What would a win on Saturday mean for the Spartans?
Thomas Beindit - A win would be huge for a few reasons. First, it clearly sets the Spartans up well not only to win the Big Ten, but also going ahead due to the injury's impacting MSU right now. However, to really see the significance look at what a loss could mean. If MSU loses, they are going to be a game behind Michigan with a road games still remaining against Iowa, Ohio State, Wisconsin, and this same Michigan team. That's a hard slate ahead, especially with injuries still a major concern for this team. Winning is a must if they want that Big Ten title.
Tim Beck - A win for the Spartans would be even bigger. Why? Because it would show the country that the Spartans are not only winning, but winning with key injuries. If they keep winning with injuries, they will be deadly when they get healthy. A win and they are easily considered the favorite to win the B1G.
Aaron Yorke - I don't think a win on Saturday would mean too much for Michigan State. This is a team that has expected to be in the title hunt since last season ended. The Spartans expect to defeat any opponent on their home floor, no matter what. I'm sure the game means a little extra because MSU is playing its in-state rival, but I think that a win just means that Michigan State is one step closer to its goal of a national title.
Josh Stern- A win for the Spartans gives them an upper hand to the title race. In terms of seeding and record, a win wouldn't help too much. A loss affects the overall Spartan outlook much more than a win.
Jason Dorow - A win would mean a lot more for Michigan State than it would for Michigan. They would prove that they can win big games without Dawson in the lineup (and perhaps Payne). And it would take a little pressure off in upcoming games against Iowa and Wisconsin. If they lose, those games become invaluable in the fight to win the conference.
7. Who wins and why?
Thomas Beindit - I'm not buying into the argument that Michigan wins just because Payne and Dawson are out. MSU has some decent replacements and if they can at least perform for segments, they should be every bit in this game at home with a roaring crowd. However, on the other side, this Michigan team is not intimidated of any environment. They have played at the biggest stages and won both last year and this year. The environment should not be as big of a factor and with some big performances from Stauskas and GR3, Michigan pulls out the road win.
Chris Kay- Michigan wins because the loss of Dawson is a big loss. Another backup will have to play big minutes for the Spartans and I'm not sure they have the depth to keep relying on their bench players. Stauskas is hot. Michigan beat Wisconsin on the road, so a road win isn't crazy to consider. I think it'll be close, but Stauskas' shooting leads them to a win.
Tim Beck - My gut tells me it is just time for Michigan. The Wolverines have been winning the close games recently. The injuries are mounting for the Spartans. If Michigan State plays the way they did against Indiana they will get beat. My brain tells me that this game is in East Lansing, and I know how this one turned out last year. In short, it was brutal for Michigan. My brain also tells me that Michigan is hot, beating back-to-back top 10 teams. Overlooked is the fact that Michigan is also beaten up. Arguably Michigan's top player is out. We don't know if Derrick Walton is 100% (flu) either. The energy with be pumping in this one. I am going with my gut (and my brain) and say Michigan wins a close one.
Aaron Yorke - If Payne plays, the Spartans win, because the big man will be too much for Michigan State to handle down low. If they try to double team or zone, it will open up outside opportunities for Gary Harris. If Payne doesn't play, Michigan will win because there won't be enough offense on Sparty's end to keep pace with Nik Stauskas and the Wolverine shooters.
Josh Stern- Michigan. Just barely. When a team has that "it" factor and it's clicking, it just works. There was something electric about being at Crisler Center on Wednesday. The Wolverines have finally hit their stride, and haven't peaked yet. Coach Beilein knows it. Caris LeVert knows it. Jordan Morgan knows it. And Lord have mercy, Nik Stauskas knows it better than anyone. This team is chomping at the bit to play the Spartans, and the Dawson injury is hysterical and crucial for a Spartan team with serious injuries. My heart always tells me to pick Michigan, but I really believe the Wolverines eke this one out.
Jason Dorow - Michigan sneaks by in East Lansing due to Michigan State's health issues. With Dawson out and Payne limited, Michigan suddenly has the advantage down low. Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and GR3 should control the boards and get some good shots around the rim. MSU doesn't have any legit scoring threats anymore, so the load is left on Harris and Appling. Only way MSU wins is if they get hot from deep and feed off the noise from the Izzone. Michigan will play the perimeter defense necessary to prevent that. Wolverines atop the B1G on Saturday night.