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January 25, 2014
What To Watch For: U-M at Michigan State
The Wolverines and Spartans are playing in East Lansing Saturday night for control of the Big Ten standings. Here are the keys to the game:
1. Matt Costello And Kenny Kaminski
The Spartans will not be at full strength Saturday night. It is looking increasingly likely that center Adreian Payne will not play against the Wolverines because of a sprain in his foot. After a weeklong will-he-won't-he story line, Payne will reportedly miss the game, according to ESPN's Jeff Goodman.
And that is a huge blow for Michigan State. Payne has always been a force inside, but he was playing the best basketball of his career before the injury this season, averaging 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.
Although fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan and redshirt junior Jon Horford have been a spectacular one-two interior punch in the absence of sophomore forward Mitch McGary, they would have had a tough time matching up with Payne in the middle - and at least one of them would have most likely gotten himself in foul trouble.
Along with Payne, Michigan State forward Branden Dawson will not be available. He broke his hand slamming it on a table while breaking down film this week, and could be out for more than a month.
The Spartans will be asking redshirt freshman forward Kenny Kaminski and sophomore forward Matt Costello to step up, while Payne and Dawson are on the bench.
How will the two younger players react to the national primetime spotlight Saturday night?
Kaminski hasn't played much this season, but he has gotten some experience. He has checked into 12 games for an average of 10.8 minutes per game, averaging 5.2 points and 1.3 rebounds.
The one thing that Kaminski brings to the table that Dawson does not is three-point shooting ability. Dawson hasn't attempted a single shot from outside the arc this season, instead shooting 60.4 percent from inside (81-of-134).
Of the 39 field goal attempts taken by Kaminski this season, 31 of them have been three-point shots And he's pretty deadly from downtown, sinking 17 of them (54.8 percent).
It will be imperative for the Wolverines to guard him closely on the perimeter and not let him get comfortable from outside.
Costello is 22-of-39 from the field this year (56.4 percent).
2. Playing At The Breslin Center
The Wolverines do not have a great track record at The Breslin Center, Michigan State's basketball arena, which opened in 1989.
Michigan has a 7-16 record in games at the Breslin Center, and it has been particularly rough recently.
Since the 1997-98 season, the Michigan men's basketball team is a lousy 1-13 in road games against the Spartans, with the lone win in 2011, a season-defining victory that launched the Wolverines toward a strong finish and an NCAA Tournament berth.
And 10 of those 13 losses were by at least 14 points, including last year's 75-52 loss in East Lansing and a miserable 51-point loss in 2000.
In John Beilein's tenure, the Wolverines have had just one good shooting night in East Lansing, which, not coincidentally, was the one game they won there (Michigan did not play in East Lansing in 2008 or 2009):
It's a tough place to play, but Michigan has been playing well on the road as of late, already amassing three Big Ten road wins: at Minnesota (63-60), at Nebraska (71-70) and at Wisconsin (77-70). The Wolverines had just four conference road wins last year.
The Spartans rank third in the conference in rebounding margin (plus-5.6 per game), and they are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, ranking 36th with 11.3 offensive rebounds per game.
The Wolverines can't afford to give Michigan State that many second chances.