Needing likely at least two more wins to get a bid to the NCAA tournament, Michigan finds themselves facing a red-hot Michigan State team led by Drew Neitzel and a date with the #1 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in the season finale.
With the Big Ten Tournament finals being placed after the tournament committee has selected the field of 65, Michigan is going to have to find a way to squeeze in two more wins before Sunday to even get a sniff from the committee.
That's why the Wolverines are likely pointing to tonight's game in Ann Arbor as a must win for them.
On the other hand, MSU knows that it is in the "Big Dance" and is prepping for the Big Ten tournament in an effort to raise a banner in this overachieving season. MSU hasn't ever won a Big Ten tournament title and had its last Big Ten conference title in 2001.
That and continuing dominance in the State of Michigan as the premier basketball program, is likely going to keep the Spartans from suffering any kind of let down tonight.
At his weekly radio show Izzo praised the Spartans for doing "some things right." He pointed to the teams defense and their rebounding, which have been hallmarks of his tenure as Michigan State coach.
An unsung hero in the Spartans march toward the NCAA tournament has been fifth-year senior Drew Naymick. Naymick's defense against opposing big men has been a huge factor in the Spartans run. He has worked hard to keep opponents from getting inside position and then his long wingspan has made opponents alter their shots in the Spartans interior.
Even sparingly used sophomore 7-footer Idong Ibok has taken to his role as the team's "designated shot blocker" and has made getting inside the Spartans defense a pain in the neck for the opposition.
The Spartan program is enjoying perhaps the best coaching job Tom Izzo has ever done in hs tenure in East Lansing in making a group of role players into a tournament dangerous club.
While the Spartans bask in the glow of yet another great season, Michigan has had trouble summoning the intensity needed to combat the fiery nature of the Spartans who thrive off coach Izzo's emotional intensity.
The underlying story in all of this is that some UM fans are actually hoping for a Wolverine collapse down the stretch to finally put an end to the tenure of classy coach Tommy Amaker, who some feel is too laid back and isn't visible enough in the community.
Amaker, a former Duke assistant, came aboard while Michigan basketball was at an all-time low following the Fab Five probation era and the bizzare events surrounding the short tenure of Brian Ellerbe. He has run a squeaky clean program and put together some decent seasons in compiling his current 105-81 career record at UM.
But while Michigan is just one win short of a 20 win season, they haven't ever appeared in the NCAA field of 65 since Amaker arrived six seasons ago. And critics point to the fact that Amaker has only been to the tournament once as a head coach (2000 as head coach of Seton Hall).
Some believe that if Michigan collapses and ends up in another NIT tournament, the team might move to go after former Stanford coach Mike Montgomery, a quality head coach who left Stanford for a no-win situation at Golden State.
In eighteen seasons at Stanford, the Cardinal made the NCAA tournament sixteen times including a trip to the Final Four in 1998. Quality coaches like that don't stay unemployed very long. Michigan might feel compelled to test the waters if the team collapses.
Other names such as former Michigan State assistants Brian Gregory (Dayton) and Tom Crean (Marquette), have also surfaced in Ann Arbor but would either be interested in a school that has sub-par facilites and an antiquated building like Crisler Arena?
There's much more at stake than just a basketball game tonight.