On Sunday, the Michigan State Spartans went on the road for an in-state battle with the Michigan Wolverines. it would be first of two meetings in the regular season. Both teams were ranked among the top 10 nationally and sparks were expected to fly.
Early on, Michigan State jumped out to a lead thanks to some brillant play from Kenny Goins and Cassius Winston. The Spartans came out firing offensively in the first half and were able to shred what has generally been a really good defensive unit for Michigan. However, Michigan was able to respond with a run of its own and cut things considerably before halftime.
During the second half, both teams came out with some excellent offensive play. Winston remained fantastic and the Wolverines got some key plays from Zavier Simpson and Ignas Brazdeikis. But as the minutes started go on, Michigan State started to clamp down on defense and the Wolverines had little response. All told, the Spartans were able to grab a 77-70 win on the road over their rivals.
So, what did we learn?
What We Learned:
1. Cassius Winston might be the best guard in the Big Ten.
This probably isn’t something that needs to be said at this point, but Winston put up an incredible performance on Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor. Not only did he finish with 27 points and eight assists, but he also consistently got teammates involved. There’s no way the Spartans go on the road and beat this Michigan team without Winston’s performance.
And this wasn’t just a statement about what Winston did on Sunday, but also about his general status in the Big Ten. He tore about a Michigan defense for most of the afternoon that many regarded as the nation’s best. In particularly, his play in ball screens on the offensive side of the floor was really impressive. He either found his way to the hoop or was able to find the wide open roll man.
Michigan State fans are hoping for a lot more than one win against the Wolverines this season and many of those goals will ride on Winston. If the Spartans are going to go deep in March, he’s certainly going to be the catalyst.
2. Another Big Ten title suddenly looks within reach for the Spartans.
After losing on the road against Illinois in early February, few thought the Spartans had a realistic shot at the Big Ten title anymore. Michigan State was behind Michigan and Purdue and had a pretty difficult remaining schedule. Not only would the team have to play a top 10 team in Michigan twice, but it also had a road trip to Wisconsin.
However, after defeating the Wolverines on Sunday, Michigan State now looks poised to grab at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title. The Spartans are now a half game up in the Big Ten standings and have three winnable games remaining. Two are at home and the road game is against a collapsing Indiana team. The rematch against Michigan should be difficult, but Michigan State now projects to win out.
Michigan State will need some help from Purdue to win the Big Ten outright, but going on the road and winning the team’s most difficult remaining game (on paper) was a major development. And add in that the Wolverines now look out of the Big Ten title race and the Spartans look to be in solid position moving forward.
3. On the other hand, Michigan’s conference title hopes look dead.
Look, the conference title race ain’t over ‘til it’s over. Big Ten fans know this well. College basketball is unpredictable and things can change in a second. After all, Michigan looked poised to win the Big Ten a few weeks back and then got shocked by Penn State. Simply put, nothing is guaranteed until it’s actually over.
But with that said, Sunday’s loss at home to Michigan State likely ends Michigan’s hopes for the Big Ten regular season title. To start, Michigan now sits a full game back from both Michigan State and Purdue with only three games remaining on its slate. Add in that the Spartans and Boilermakers are favored in all of their remaining games and gaining back a game back with so little left on the schedule looks like a challenging proposition.
Additionally, Michigan also has a really tough remaining slate. The Wolverines get Nebraska at home on Thursday, but then finish with Maryland and Michigan State in back-to-back road games. There’s a pretty decent chance that Michigan enters both of those games as an underdog at tip-off. As such, going 3-0 to finish the regular season looks tough.
The Wolverines can still accomplish a lot this season, but winning the Big Ten regular season title looks like it’s out the window at this point. And after the early season success of Michigan, that will be a tough pill for fans to swallow.
4. Michigan’s defense needs to figure out what went wrong on Sunday.
As mentioned above, Winston had an absolutely fantastic game for the Spartans. And he wasn’t alone either, as players like Goins and McQuaid also had nice afternoons. It was a fantastic afternoon for Michigan State’s offense.
However, with that said, Michigan’s defense had some significant issues as well. For a unit that had been so good all season, getting shredded for much of the afternoon must have been a shock. And the team was particularly bad in its ball screen defense. Winston consistently was able to make plays in those sets all day.
Michigan isn’t going to see players like Winston very often, but if the team is going to go deep into the NCAA Tournament as fans hope, it’s going to see offenses like Michigan State’s and teams that have players like Winston. As such, Michigan has to figure out some things if it hopes to make a deep run in March.
Sunday was a huge afternoon for Michigan State as it went on the road and pulled off an upset against its in-state rival. The game was fantastic for virtually its entire duration and came down to just a few buckets in the end.
Michigan will now prepare to face Nebraska at home on Thursday. Meanwhile, Michigan State will get Indiana on the road on Saturday.