Keys to victory

Five things the MSU men's basketball team must do to beat No. 4 Michigan


The Spartans and Wolverines have met on the hardwood 169 other times, but never like this, never as a pair of top-10 teams.

The No. 8 MSU men’s basketball team (20-4 overall, 9-2 Big Ten) hosts No. 4 U-M (21-3, 8-3) today at Breslin Center (9 p.m., ESPN) in what will be the first of two meetings between the rivals.

With the stakes higher than they’ve ever been, here are five keys for MSU to beat U-M for the 13th time in the past 14 home games and regain sole possession of first place in the Big Ten.

Limit turnovers/fast break
After averaging more than 14 turnovers a game through the season’s opening 22 matchups, the Spartans have cut their turnovers to just seven a game the past two times out. Turnovers lead to easy baskets in transition, fueling one of U-M’s biggest strength, athleticism and fast break points. Forcing U-M to score in the halfcourt would be a big edge for MSU.

Size inside
MSU has a significant size advantage against the Wolverines, with centers Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix along with guard/forward Branden Dawson having a height and, in many cases, strength edge over the Wolverines. If MSU is patient and works the ball inside, they should be able to get good opportunities to wear down U-M with high percentage shots.

Avoiding foul trouble
Both the Spartans and Wolverines have limited depth, particularly MSU, who could be without the services of sophomore guard Travis Trice for the third consecutive game with a head injury. MSU was able to maintain its lead against Purdue with Payne. as well as guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris sitting on the bench with foul trouble on Saturday. But it could be a struggle to be as successful in a similar circumstance against a much more talented U-M team.

Defending the 3-point shot
The Wolverines are prolific from long range, with four players shooting better than 37 percent from beyond the arc this season, including 44 percent shooting or better from guards Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr. MSU head coach Tom Izzo said he doesn’t want to overcompensate the Spartans’ defense to such a degree that U-M gets other, easier opportunities. Nevertheless, it will be critical for MSU to get out on the Wolverines’ shooters.

Controlling U-M role players
The backcourt of Hardaway and Trey Burke might be the best in the country, with Hardaway on an explosive tear the past few weeks and Burke leading the charge for national player of the year honors. Those two will make their plays. But in U-M’s two losses in their past three games, role players, such as Stauskas and guard Glenn Robinson III have been kept in check. If MSU can control the other guys, the Spartans could knock off their rivals.

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