The Opponent: No. 9 Michigan State
Record: 22-6 (11-4)
Head Coach: Tom Izzo (18th season, 434-175)
All-time Series: Michigan leads the all-time series 94-76
Following a mind-numbing 84-78 loss to Big Ten bottom-feeder Penn State Feb. 27, U-M desperately needs a home victory against bitter rival Michigan State to keep its slim conference title hopes alive.
For the second time in the rivalry's history, and second time this season, the two teams will meet as top-10 foes; the first being a dominating 75-52 Spartan victory in East Lansing.
Although both are ranked in the AP Top 10, both teams have trended downward in recent weeks, and need a big win against a hated opponent to reverse the negative momentum.
After a 20-2 start, the Wolverines have dropped three of their last six games, and MSU is currently muddled in a two-game losing streak that has greatly jeopardized its chances at a Big Ten regular season crown.
The Green and White are in the middle of a four-game gauntlet, in which it combats four top 25 teams, but Tom Izzo's squad has had six days to rest and prepare for U-M.
Junior point guard Keith Appling has been absolutely abysmal during the Spartans' two-game skid, scoring just nine total points on 2-of-14 shooting (14.2 percent) and committing seven turnovers against only three assists. He will also be tasked with containing Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke, who is the only player in the conference to score double-digit points in every game this season. Appling yielded 21 points to defensive-minded Ohio State junior guard Aaron Craft in a 68-60 loss Feb. 24. Advantage Michigan.
Michigan State has been able to rely on steady freshman guard Gary Harris, who has carried the Spartans' perimeter offense during Appling's recent struggles, scoring 16.5 points per game in his last two contests. On the season, he leads all Big Ten freshmen with 13.2 points per game, and scored 17 against Michigan earlier this year.
Junior big man Adreian Payne should also cause matchup problems for the Maize and Blue; the versatile big man is averaging 14.7 points on 57.7 percent shooting and 12 rebounds over the last three games. Senior forward Derrick Nix (9.5 points per game) and sophomore guard Branden Dawson (10.6 points per game) are also shooting better than 50.0 percent from the field this season.
Michigan fell behind by double digits early in first half the last time the two teams met, and were overwhelmed by MSU's high pressure defense. John Beilein's squad shot only 39.6 percent from the field, committed 16 turnovers against only six assists, and was outrebounded 40-28.
The return of redshirt junior forward Jordan Morgan should help on the boards, but the Wolverines must value the ball against the Spartan press to compete today at Crisler Center.
By the Numbers
1: Jordan Morgan needs one rebound (499) to become the 42nd player in program history to record 500 points and 500 rebounds.
7: Trey Burke needs seven assists to record the fourth 200-assist season in school history. He is only 43 assists away from setting the all-time Michigan record currently held by Darius Morris (235; 2010-11).
16: The Wolverines have won 16-consecutive games at the Crisler Center, the best such streak in U-M history. Michigan has also won six-consecutive home contests against nationally ranked foes.
From the Other Sideline
Graham Couch - The Lansing State Journal:"There is nothing Michigan State can do today to duplicate the vibe from three weeks ago.
"No way to rekindle the anticipation. Or what appeared to be direct Big Ten title ramifications.
"Or to recapture that moment as a perfect basketball team at what felt like the perfect time. Perfection never happens on the road.
"But today's game at Michigan, in so many ways, can be more significant for MSU than the first meeting - even if since then, we've seen too many warts from both sides to again giddily sell this matchup as clearly the biggest moment in the history of either campus."
After being embarrassed in East Lansing, this is a matchup the Maize and Blue need to regain confidence heading into the most important month of the season. Burke will predictably add double-figure scoring, but he must control the tempo of the game and use his ability to penetrate to create open looks for others.
The big difference in this contest will be the venue. This young U-M squad has been a different team in the friendly confines of the Crisler Center, and, if it can start strong, should play a more relaxed and intelligent game in front of a sold out, Maize Out in Ann Arbor.
The Wolverines will thwart MSU's defensive pressure and limit costly turnovers, and will do just enough to hold their own on the boards. Clutch shooting from junior guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. and tough interior efforts from Jordan Morgan and freshman forward Mitch McGary will help Michigan triumph in a tight, back-and-forth slug fest.
Final Score: Michigan 70, Michigan State 67