Date: Saturday, February 12 – Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI (13,751)
Time: 4 p.m. (ESPN)
GAME NOTES: The Wolverines fell just shy in their bid to upset No. 1-ranked Illinois Tuesday night (Feb. 8), falling 57-51 to the Fighting Illini in front of a sellout crowd of 13,751 at Crisler Arena. The Wolverines put forth a valiant effort the entire length of the contest, as U-M held a 41-37 lead with less than nine minutes left in the game. However, Michigan fell victim to a 12-1 run that vaulted Illinois to a 49-42 lead that it would never relinquish.
Meanwhile, Michigan State won their second-straight, downing Ohio State, 83-69, Wednesday evening at the Breslin Center. Chris Hill led the Spartans with a season-high 26 points. Maurice Ager added 18 and Alan Anderson chipped in with 16 points and 9 rebounds. The Spartans will be seeking their fourth-straight victory over Michigan Saturday afternoon.
Early in the week, the Wolverines' currently-suspended Point Guard Daniel Horton was rumored to be in the lineup pending his this week's preliminary hearing on charges of domestic violence. However, that hearing was postponed until early next week, making it highly unlikely that Horton will see action this Saturday. That means that Dion Harris will again shoulder a heavy burden as the Wolverines primary ball handler and scorer.
Point Guard: Michigan State's Drew Neitzel (6'0" 170) versus Michigan's Dion Harris (6'3" 205)
Neitzel played a solid game (7 assists, 1 turnover) in Wednesday night's victory over the Buckeyes. He will have to work hard again Saturday against Harris – the Wolverines #1 weapon (13.0 ppg). Harris had 25 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in Tuesday's near-upset of #1 Illinois. Dion will again log Superman minutes against the Spartans and if Neitzel has trouble containing him, then expect Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert and possibly Tim Bograkos to get the opportunity to do so.
Paul Davis will be heavily tested against the Wolverines big front line tandem of Hunter (11.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and Sims (10.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg). Both players will rotate in-and-out against Davis (with Sims coming in off the bench) and it will be very important that Davis get into the flow of the game early to keep Hunter and Sims working on both ends of the floor.
While Davis looked bad defensively at times Wednesday night versus the Buckeyes' Terence Dials, much of that had to do with the fact that Michigan State's guards offered little in the way of help defensively due to the Buckeyes penchant for the three-point shot. Expect the Spartan guards to rotate down to help Davis defensively against Hunter and Sims, as the Wolverines simply don't pose the outside shooting threat that Ohio State did.
These two players will be big factors now that Michigan is likely to stick with the slow-ball formula that worked so well against Illinois. Both Brown (5.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Petway (6.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) will look to crash the offensive boards to keep the Spartans from establishing their fast break. If either of these players becomes a major factor inside, expect Drew Naymick, Matt Trannon, and Delco Rowley to make plenty of trips to the scorers' table to counter Michigan's big front line.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
Michigan: Grind it out and use as much shot clock as you can to minimize Michigan States' touches. Crash the glass to try and create second-chance possessions, put-back layups, and trips to the charity stripe. If Michigan can hold their own on the boards against the Spartans and maximize their trips to the free throw line, they will have a chance to pull the upset.
Michigan State: As usual, get the ball to Paul Davis early and often. If the Wolverines double team Davis in the post, it will open up passing lanes for Davis to find Ager, Hill, Torbert and others. If Drew Neitzel can hold his own against Dion Harris and break him down off the dribble, then Michigan State's inside-outside game should work effectively.
Pressure Dion Harris all over the floor to wear him down; then run him through screens to beat him up on the offensive end. If they can force Harris into turnovers and bad shots, the Spartans will have a chance to get their fast break going. If that happens, then it could be lights out for Michigan before halftime.
Prediction: The Spartans have too much offensive firepower and the Wolverines, while big up front, simply don't rebound well enough to keep place with the Big Ten's #1 rebounding team. The Spartans will frustrate Harris and the MSU fast break will happen early and often.
However, if the officials decide to have a whistling contest then all bets are off, as this game will deteriorate into a free throw contest; which is just what the Wolverines will need to keep Harris fresh.
Final: Michigan State 70, Michigan 47