On Tuesday evening, Michigan State headed to Ann Arbor to face Michigan in the second game of the season between the two in-state rivals. Both teams would be facing some serious NCAA Tournament bubble pressure and each desperately needed a win.
However, Michigan was on fire out of the gate and raced out to a 9-2 to lead to start the game. That momentum kept up for the remainder of the first half as well, as Michigan pushed the margin to 55-29 at the break. The Spartans did show more fight in the second half, but Michigan held on to win by a final score of 86-57.
Let's see what we learned from the game.
What We Learned
1. Michigan Stayed Alive In The NCAA Tournament Hunt.
Since Michigan dropped its matchup against Ohio State on Saturday, I called Tuesday’s matchup with Michigan State a “must win” game for the Wolverines. With an underwhelming 14-9 record on the season, Michigan couldn’t afford to drop another game at home and another to a team that already had nine losses on the season.
Obviously, Michigan got the job done.
Tuesday’s win won’t guarantee Michigan an NCAA Tournament bid, but it at least keeps the Wolverines in the picture. It also gets the team back in the right psychological place after suffering back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Ohio State. The team needed a win of significance and got it on Tuesday night.
The focus for the Wolverines will now have to turn to the team’s final seven-game stretch, which begins with Indiana on the road on Sunday and Wisconsin at home the following Thursday night. Michigan needs to be in a “survive and advance” mindset for the next few weeks to have legitimate postseason hopes.
2. Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson Continue to Shine.
Projecting anything in this year’s Big Ten is a difficult task, but perhaps no team has been more difficult to predict than Michigan. Since the season started, Michigan has shown incredible inconsistency. On any given night, the Wolverines can either look like a Final Four contender or a team unfit to make the NIT.
No players impact this more than Moritz Wagner and DJ Wilson
Michigan’s always been known as a school that prides itself on its guards and wings, but it’s the big men who continue to control this team’s destiny. Wagner and Wilson combined for 25 points and eight rebounds on Tuesday night and it had a tremendous impact on the game’s outcome.
If these two can continue to improve their consistency going forward, perhaps Michigan can make some noise in this year’s Big Ten and beyond after all.
3. Michigan State’s Guards Remain A Concern.
There’s no debating that Michigan State’s defense struggled on Tuesday night (Michigan did score 55 points in the first half after all), but it was the offense’s struggles in the half court sets that was truly concerning. Once the Spartans got out of transition, the team had no answer for what had been a pretty weak Michigan defense.
And no group struggled more than Michigan State’s guards.
Not only did the Spartans combine for 17 turnovers on the night, but Tum Tum Nairn and Cassius Winston struggled significantly and only scored six points, despite playing major minutes on the evening. It was a horrific performance for a group that seemed like it might be starting to improve.
Michigan State’s wing and frontcourt groups are good enough to override these struggles on most nights, but if the Spartans can’t get things going in halfcourt sets, it’s hard to see the team making an NCAA Tournament run.
4. The Pressure Returns To East Lansing.
This is probably going to read like the inverse of point one, but it’s true. With Tuesday night’s loss, the pressure will be back on the Spartans going forward. Michigan State now sits at 14-10 with a tricky upcoming slate. If the team is going to keep the program’s impressive NCAA Tournament streak going, it has to start now.
That campaign will start this Saturday with Iowa at home and continue on Valentine’s Day with Ohio State at home as well. Both of these matchups should now be considered as “must wins” for the Spartans. Otherwise, the team faces a final three game stretch that includes Maryland, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
Nobody should ever count out a Tom Izzo team this early, but with only seven games left on the schedule before the postseason, time is running out for Michigan State.
The game may have looked like an intriguing one on paper, but only one team showed up on Tuesday night. Michigan got out to a lead early and never looked back. It was a huge win for Michigan that Wolverine fans will hope leads to more success.
Michigan will now prepare to face Indiana on the road on Sunday and Michigan State will look to rebound against Iowa on Saturday.