Michigan beat Michigan State 80-75 at the Breslin Center earlier this year, but it's a tougher and hungrier team that returns to Ann Arbor Sunday for the rematch. Head coach John Beilein knows the Wolverines will have to play even better than they did in the first game to emerge with a win.
"If anybody watched, they know Michigan State looked almost unbeatable last night," he said of the Spartans' blowout win at Purdue. They'll be a handful. In the time Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson were out [with injuries], that allowed other players to grow.
"Now they're back playing at a high level. We're going to have to play a great basketball game on Sunday … we'll still show up and do our best."
News and Views:
News: The Spartans made 13 of 19 triples in the first half in running the Boilermakers out of the gym in a 94-79 win.
Beilein: "We always have to answer those questions to people [on how to guard them]. How do you figure that? It's hard to predict what your own team will do, let alone what another team might do. I'd assume they'd love to have some of those back for the Nebraska game [an MSU loss last Sunday] … but we've got to prepare for the team we saw last night."
Views: Chances are the Spartans won't hit 13 triples all game against U-M. It was just one of those nights. ESPN Dan Dakich predicted MSU would come back to earth in the second half, and they only went 4-for-13 the rest of the way. Unfortunately for Purdue, that's when they got it working inside.
Payne's return makes Michigan State the league's best team and toughest to guard. The Spartans' Nebraska game was one of those things, too, and we won't see that kind of performance out of them in Ann Arbor.
News: Payne has been playing with an edge since his return and developed into one of the nation's most dangerous inside/outside players.
Beilein: "It's really hard to guard teams, as we found out with Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin, with someone who can play inside and out at the five position. That's the way we had success with some of the past teams I coached at other places. We haven't had that since DeShawn Sims was here and shot the heck out of it. That gave people matchup problems.
"It's difficult to defend. You have to find ways to get there. There are a lot of hustle plays involved, a lot of early reads you have to make. You have to take some chances here and there."
Views: And, as usual, it comes down to making shots. Michigan can't let Payne own the paint the way Kaminsky did against them in going off for 25 points. They're going to have to force Payne outside and take their chances with him and the Spartans' other shooters on the perimeter.
Shooting guard Gary Harris had one of the worst shooting games of his career at Wisconsin a few weeks ago, but he countered with one of his best at Purdue. Which Harris shows up will be a big factor in how this game goes.
News: Harris guarded Michigan shooting guard Nik Stauskas a lot in the first game, but U-M is preparing for a number of options this time around.
Beilein: "Some of the scores he had Gary on him. Gary is a great two-way player. Nik has to do a really good job of getting open. He cannot himself to be guarded sometimes.
"The harder you work to get open, harder they've got to work, and Gary has to work, to guard you. We don't need Gary getting any more rest than he need. There are a lot of things we can do with Nik, and that Nik and his teammates can do."
Views: Last game it was some hand offs that gave Stauskas just enough room to shoot. There's no question, though, that there are times he has to be more aggressive to get the ball rather than just be content to stand and watch fellow guard Caris LeVert do the scoring.
Michigan is a better team when the offense runs through Stauskas. There are things teams can do to limit him, but there are times his frustration gets the better of him. They'll need him at his aggressive best Sunday.
News: Michigan has won five of the last seven against Michigan State.
Beilein: "I don't think it means a whole lot unless it's six out of eight. Then it might mean some more.
"They are one of the great programs in America. If you can beat them any time … play with them, win on their court, beat them here which we've been able to do all at the last second, then you're making strides in the right direction. That should be a benchmark for a lot of programs because they've been so successful over the last couple decades."
Views: Beating them at home, too, would also give the Wolverines a leg up in the Big Ten championship race. Winning a title when MSU didn't would be the next step toward proving, once and for all, that the gap that once existed between the two programs has disappeared.