The staff got a chance to sit down this week and chat Michigan & MSU. Check out the discussion:
1. Michigan and MSU face off this Sunday with 1st place on the line. How big is this game?
Scott Manning - It depends on what the ultimate goals are for each team. The winner of this game has a huge leg up in the running for a B1G Title, but I have a feeling these teams aren't nearly as focused on that as we might think. Indiana won the B1G last year and did basically nothing in the tournament. These programs want National Titles and this game will have only a slight bearing on that from a seeding perspective.
Aaron Yorke - With both Michigan and Michigan State a loss ahead of Iowa, this game is as important as a regular season collegiate basketball game can get. If Michigan wins, it will be in first place and essentially two games ahead of the Spartans because of the head-to-head sweep. Michigan State must prevent Michigan from taking that advantage if it wants to keep the chance for a conference title alive.
Josh Stern- This is a massive game. For a long time, Tom Izzo dominated the state of Michigan. But with John Beilein fresh off a Final Four, Michigan is trying to prove that it belongs in the national conversation. If the Wolverines could sweep the Spartans in a season? It would mean that Michigan can truly say it has a two-headed monster for basketball powerhouses.
Tim Beck - This game is huge. Sunday game. National TV. 1st Place on the line. And you know it is going to be HYPE.
Andrew Holmes- This is Michigan-Michigan State, this game would be big for these teams if it was for last place, but this is for first and that makes it huge. To me it is bigger than any conference game this season.
2. Who is this game more important for: Michigan or MSU?
Scott Manning - I think the game is bigger for Michigan and only due to seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Michigan State has all the pieces to make a run and will be one of the favorites to win it all no matter what they do the rest of the regular season. They are finally starting to get healthy and that is a scary thought for the rest of the country. I think Michigan State may do what Indiana or Michigan couldn't last year - and that is win it all.
Aaron Yorke - I guess it's more important for Michigan State because getting swept by the Wolverines would be embarrassing for the Spartans. However, seeing as how this game could very well determine the Big Ten regular season champ, I'd say both teams have a lot to play for.
Joshua Stern - Bigger for Michigan than Michigan State. The Spartans just dismantled a decent Purdue team on the road and seem to be absolutely rolling, and they still aren't completely healthy. This is Michigan's biggest game of the season, especially with this being played at Crisler, and Wolverine fans would consider this a near must win.
Tim Beck - I will say that it is a tie. This game is equally important for both teams. Izzo can't get swept by Michigan. And Michigan, after failing to do so against Wisconsin, has to hold their home-court advantage. The regular season title may ride on this game.
Andrew Holmes-I'll say Michigan, but just barely. This is their last big game of the regular season, but MSU still has Iowa and Ohio State to go. The Wolverines will also want to defend home court and complete the sweep.
3. What matchup controls the game?
Scott Manning - Harris and Stauskas. If Stauskas can get hot, then Michigan could have a shot in this game. Harris is a very good defender though and look for Izzo to incorporate some of things Tom Crean ran against Stauskas a few weeks ago. Gary Harris is just a flat out stud and can dominate every game he plays in. The Wolverines will need to find a way to slow him down to have a chance in this game.
Aaron Yorke - Last time around, this game was all about Gary Harris versus Nik Stauskas, but since then, Caris LaVert has emerged as Michigan's most serious offensive threat. You might see more of Harris on LaVert in this game. Since I'm not sure whom Harris will be guarding more often, I'm going to say that the most important matchup is Adreian Payne versus Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. The Wolverines have trouble defending against big men (just look at what Frank Kaminsky did to them), and they didn't have to deal with Payne when these teams met in East Lansing.
Josh Stern- Nik Stauskas vs. whoever Izzo throws on him. Stauskas has shown flashes of brilliance this season, and needs to have a big game again on Sunday for the Wolverines to win this game. He was mediocre against Wisconsin against a smaller and weaker defender, so if it is Gary Harris, Stauskas will have his hands full like he did in the first matchup in East Lansing.
Tim Beck - Payne is the X-Factor for MSU in this game. If Michigan can not neutralize him, MSU will have its way on that end of the floor. But if MSU cannot neutralize Stauskas and LaVert, Michigan will have its way on that end.
Andrew Holmes-Stauskas vs. Harris, these two sophmores are leaders of their teams. Even if they don't always end up matched up against each other on every play, their play is what sets the tone for the rest of the guys on the floor. Both had good games in the first meeting and it was a tight contest, expect more of the same this time around.
4. How will the return of Adreian Payne impact Sunday's game?
Scott Manning - Payne absolutely lit up Purdue on Thursday night in West Lafayette. Without McGary down low, Payne should be able to really take advantage of a matchup against either Michigan big man. Look for Payne to be a difference maker in this game from both the inside and outside.
Aaron Yorke - You could argue that Michigan State would have won its last game versus Michigan if Payne was healthy. His importance to the Spartan offense combined with Michigan's inability to control opposing big men makes Payne's impact a major one.
Josh Stern- Payne will have a massive impact on Sunday. Given Michigan's inability to guard Frank Kaminsky last Sunday, Payne must be chomping at the bit to play against Michigan's lackluster front line. Jon Horford is too slow to stay with him on the perimeter, and Jordan Morgan is too small down low. I expect Payne to have a huge game.
Tim Beck - He is the difference for MSU. If Michigan cannot slow him down, he will be a huge impact for MSU.
Andrew Holmes-Payne's presence turns the Spartans from a good team to a great team. MSU may have won by 15 at Purdue this week, but without Payne that game is down to the wire. Izzo has no one who can completely make up for the loss of production when the senior isn't on the floor.
5. Gary Harris or Nik Stauskas. Who has been better?
Scott Manning - Stauskas started the year on fire, but really got shut down at Indiana and hasn't been as hot since. Gary Harris is the best guard in the B1G and its not even close. He will be headed for the NBA after this year and will be very successful at that level as well. He can defend. He can drive. And everyone knows he can shoot. Stauskas has a long way to go to reach the level of Gary Harris.
Aaron Yorke - Both players have cooled down since the last Michigan versus Michigan State game, but Harris has been the better player this season because of his impact on defense as well as offense. He's a better player right now in addition to being a better NBA prospect.
Josh Stern- Gary Harris. While Stauskas has had some incredible games this season, Harris has been far more consistent. Give the slew of injuries that the Spartans have had this season as well, Harris has been one of the biggest reasons that Michigan State is still in the hunt to win the B1G.
Tim Beck - Harris. Teams have keyed on Stauskas and have been fairly effective in slowing him down. Harris has been much more consistent.
Andrew Holmes-Harris, he is third in the league in points and steals per game. Overall he has simply been a more complete and, with the exception of the Wisconsin game, consistent player.
6. Who wins on Sunday?
Scott Manning - Michigan State wins by 5-8 points I believe. They just have too many weapons that are starting to get healthy now. This could end up being the springboard to MSU making yet another Final Four run. Michigan has been very good - surprisingly good after the injury to McGary, but their players are too streaky to consistently win a game like this. They barely beat MSU last time with two of the Spartans biggest stars not even playing. I'd be pretty shocked with a Michigan win here.
Aaron Yorke - Both of these teams have alternated wins and losses recently, so there's not a ton of momentum on either side. I will take Michigan State because Tom Izzo's squad is a better defensive team and with both Harris and Payne on the floor, it will be tough for the Wolverines to get the stops that they need.
Josh Stern- Michigan. Too many times this season, the Wolverines have been counted out. They looked sloppy against Wisconsin, but Wisconsin does not bring out the type of fight and fire that an instate rival does. Nik Stauskas is going to have a massive game because he has to, and hopefully the Wolverines can get the necessary stops down the stretch. If Stauskas, Caris LeVert and one other Wolverine can step up and have a big game, which I expect, the Wolverines should win this game.
Tim Beck - The Wolverines. If we re-play the first match in East Lansing, MSU lead most of the game. But go back a little further in that first half. There was a short period (after Michigan went up 10-2) where MSU got hot, got the home crowd behind them and played tremendous defense. The young Michigan squad literally look shook. They got sloppy and basically stopped playing basketball. The Wolverines got their heads into it and the game was fairly even until they ultimately grew up and took over in crunch time. Long story-short: Michigan won't be shook at home. And although they have played lackluster in a few games recently, they will get up and be ready for their biggest basketball rival. Michigan pulls off the victory, complete the sweep and get in prime position to win the B1G regular season Title.
Andrew Holmes-Michigan State, after watching them control the whole game in West Lafayette I think they've gotten over the loss to Nebraska. I think Michigan might struggle to get going early after having a whole week off, even though it's a rivalry game at home.