While Sunday afternoon featured a surplus of elite Big Ten matchups, one game that stood out in the minds of many, was the in-state rivalry between the Michigan State Spartans (13-9, Big Ten 5-4) and Michigan Wolverines (14-8, Big Ten 4-5). With both teams struggling to climb on top of the conference this season, their hunger for a win in this heated rivalry amplified.
The first half revealed a tight battle, as neither team was able to find much breathing room. However, Michigan State would enter the half up 32-28, behind the team’s final-minute efforts.
Michigan came out with some fire in the second, and quickly tied the game up. Nevertheless, it was Michigan State who fed off its home crowd’s energy, as the Spartans gradually pulled away. Michigan State would go on to capture a crucial win over Michigan, 70-62.
Let’s see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan State finally spread the scoring around
One of the biggest factors in Michigan State’s win over Michigan was its ability to distribute the work load throughout the team. In Michigan State’s loss to Purdue this past Tuesday, freshman forward Miles Bridges was the lone Spartan to notch double figures, scoring 33 of the team’s 73 points. While Bridges’ performance was noteworthy, it was clear that Michigan State needed more contributions from other players in order to capture the big-time win.
On Sunday, the Spartans did just that, as three players scored in double figures.
Michigan State’s win was highlighted by Bridges’ 15-point, 13-rebound double-double. However, Bridges’ performance was followed by freshman guard Cassius Winston’s 16 points and three assists, as well as freshman forward Nick Ward’s 13-point, two-rebound showing.
If the Michigan State is able to spread the floor and utilize its talent, expect the team to pick up another victory on its road trip to Nebraska.
2. Michigan can’t solely rely on perimeter shooting
Under head coach John Beilein, Michigan has been widely regarded as a three-point shooting team. While the Wolverines have found their fair share of success from beyond the arc, they must learn to take the ball in the paint.
Throughout the game, it was clear that Michigan was content on settling for the three, but as a result, other quality scoring opportunities were missed. In the first half, Michigan connected on just three of its 13 shot attempts from the perimeter. Although it may have been in the Wolverines’ game plan to shoot three’s, their shots refused to fall. Michigan closed the game shooting just 27% from three.
Sophomore forward Moritz Wagner, is a big man that the team can rely on down low. The 6-foot-11 big man notched 10 points and eight rebounds, on 4-of-6 shooting in the loss. He is currently averaging 12 points per game in the Big Ten, and can cause serious problems for opponents. Michigan must use Wagner to spread the floor and gain a variety of scoring opportunities.
3. Michigan State must work on rebounding
While Michigan State was just barely out-rebounded by Michigan, there is a deeper problem at hand. Offensively, Michigan State has been atrocious on the boards. The team is thirteenth in the Big Ten in offensive rebounds, while Michigan sits in last. Michigan is also the worst team in the conference in getting defensive rebounds.
The Spartans hold two incredibly talented freshman big men in Bridges and Ward. The fact that Michigan was able to stay that close to Michigan State on the boards, displays the improvements that need to be made. The more rebounds that the Spartan’s are able to bring in, the more offensive chances they will have. In the next meeting, look for Michigan State to crash the boards a bit more.
Michigan State picked up a much-needed win, barely keeping its NCAA Tournament aspirations alive. While Michigan’s conference record falls below .500, the team will look for revenge when it squares off against Michigan State again in early February.