(East Lansing) Twelve wins next season would be considered a step in the right direction for the Michigan mens basketball team.
Fast forward to Jan. 26, 2003 and youll find the Wolverines on top of the Big Ten with a perfect record and winners of 12 straight.
The Wolverines (12-6 overall, 5-0 Big Ten) are where many expected to see the MSU at this point of the year, but the Spartans (10-7, 2-3) have stumbled out of the blocks and have not met theirs or anyones expectations yet.
The two intrastate battles will meet Sunday afternoon at Crisler Arena in the 153rd meeting. However, this game has bigger implications than just another win in the Big Ten.
MSU has regained basketball supremacy in the state of Michigan over the last 5 seasons. The Spartans have won the last eight contests against the Wolverines, which included a 51-point blowout in during the 2000-01 season.
Are the tides turning? Its hard to say this early, but one thing is for sure the rivalry is heating up and both teams are ecstatic for the only regular season meeting between the two schools.
Michigan is led by senior forward LaVell Blanchard. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging 17.8 points per game and is pulling down 7.2 rebounds per game. If theres one thing, Blanchard can pass on to his younger cohorts, its to never give up.
If his shots arent falling, he wont hesitate to keep shooting. Need proof? Just look back at the Wisconsin game where he knocked down four straight 3s to help lead Michigan to the win.
Freshman guard Daniel Horton has also been quite a surprise. The 6-foot-3 freshman is pouring in 15.8 ppg and dishing out 4.4 assists per game.
Horton has already been name Big Ten Player of the Week twice and is the only Wolverine freshman to earn the honor more than once.
Forward Bernard Robinson Jr. rounds out Michigans "Big Three." The trio combines for more than 64 percent of Michigans offense.
The 6-foot-8 junior averages 12.6 ppg and rips down 6.2 boards a game.
Besides these three players, Michigan is primarily led by freshmen. Guard Lester Abram and center Graham Brown round out the starting lineup and another freshman Chris Hunter is putting in quality minutes off the bench.
With all that youth it means two things. They have a lot of energy and that turns into quickness. The other thing is because of their inexperience at the college level, it means they make mistakes. During the 12-game win streak, the youngsters have been nothing, but impressive.
MSU will try to counter the quickness with its strength and defensive pressure. Against Penn State, the Spartans locked down and played on of their finest defensive games all season. MSU held Penn State to just 23.4 percent from the field, with most shots coming with less than 5 seconds on the shot clock.
MSU head coach Tom Izzo tinkered with the starting lineup again, and had the Spartans leading scorer, sophomore guard Chris Hill coming off the bench. Hill answered with 20 points off the bench and Izzo got solid defense from sophomore Tim Bograkos, who got the start.
The Spartans also got some much needed help from the interior. Senior forward Al Anagonye has put together a 12-point, 11-rebound performance against Minnesota and an 11-point, 5-rebound performance against Penn State.
Tip-off is set for 1 p.m.