MUST WIN: MSU hosts Michigan

This is it for #16 Michigan State (18-7, 6-5 Big Ten) as they find themselves virtually out of the Big Ten race. But on Saturday afternoon against unranked Michigan (17-6, 7-5), more than rankings are at stake. State pride and braggin rights are on the line. MSU can snap out of a two-game conference losing streak, and get redemption for a loss to the Wolverines earlier this season.

EAST LANSING - It's time to regroup for #16 Michigan State (18-7, 6-5 Big Ten) as they find themselves virtually out of the Big Ten race. But on Saturday afternoon against unranked Michigan (17-6, 7-5), they can not only snap out of a two-game conference losing streak, but seek redemption for a loss to the Wolverines earlier this season.

On January 25, Michigan benefited from a second half scoring run to beat the Spartans in Ann Arbor, 72-67.

The loss was crushing to the Spartans, as they led most of the first half and were playing well on defense until they went cold from the field and gave the game away.

Even more crushing, was the Spartans most recent loss to #18 Iowa. The loss virtually phased the Spartans out of the Big Ten conference race, which they were picked to win in preseason. MSU head coach Tom Izzo though, isn't ready to concede and is rolling the dice that if the Spartans win out, strange things could happen.

The perfect cure for the Spartans should be coming home. Big Ten teams playing on the road have found themselves in early foul trouble and Michigan State was especially victimized by this pattern. They hope the trend of home cooking by the men in the striped shirts turns in their favor at home.

The discrepency in the whistles was a major factor in the earlier meeting between these bitter rivals. Michigan, who is second in the Big Ten in free-throw percentage (.759), attempted 34 free-throws to the Spartans' 10.

However, the Spartans are 10-0 at the Breslin Center this season, including 4-0 in conference games. Even more, four of their remaining five games are at home, with only a trip to Indiana left.

As for the Wolverines, they are coming off a rout of Minnesota at home, 72-50. Prior to that, they had dropped three consecutive games, falling out of the national rankings.

Daniel Horton scored 21 points and Ron Coleman and Chris Hunter added 13 apiece against the Golden Gophers. They shot 50 percent from both the field and long range but is it realistic to believe the Wolverines can keep up that blistering pace?

The Wolverines played without starters Dion Harris (sprained right ankle) and Lester Abram (severely sprained left ankle). Abram did not play in the last meeting between the two teams and his 11.2 points per game along with Harris' 12 points per game are greatly missed.

Daniel Horton continues to be the leader of the injury-riddled team, averaging a team-high 16.2 points per game. Courtney Sims is the only other active player who averages in double-figures with 12.3 points per game.

Although Maurice Ager is struggling, he scored 18 points and played well earlier this season against the Wolverines. Drew Neitzel scored 15, Shannon Brown 13, and Paul Davis scored 10 points in the loss.

Tom Izzo has really improved the MSU defense with every game. In the last eight games, MSU is allowing just 62.4 points on 40.2 percent shooting, including 31.4 percent from behind the arc. The Wolverines shot just 41.7 percent from the field in the last meeting.

The Breslin Center will welcome a capacity crowd for this season's second installment of the rivalry.

It will be important for the Spartans to get back on track because their last five games are against teams in the heat of the Big Ten race, so if they can't win the title, an 18-7 record is far from being considered bad in college basketball.

All the Spartans can do with their last five games is pad their resume for the NCAA tournament, beat some ranked teamsand hope that the selection committee will take notice and reward them with at least a #4 seed.

Mike Fowler contributed to this report


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