Preview: Spartans, Wolverines battle in lone bout of the season
Who: University of Michigan
When: Saturday at 12 p.m.
Where: Breslin Center
How to Watch, TV/Radio: Fox, Spartan Sports Network
No. 4 MSU hasn’t been playing its best basketball as of late and Saturday heads into a rivalry matchup with the Wolverines. The men’s hoops team is coming off of a loss to Ohio State and a four-point overtime win against Rutgers, who is No. 12 in the Big Ten.
The Buckeyes and the Scarlet Knights held the Spartans to shooting 39 percent and 41 percent overall, respectively, both marks well below MSU’s season average of just more than 50 percent.
The Spartans still hold the third place spot in the conference standings, one spot above the Wolverines, who had won seven straight games before their one-point loss to No. 5 Purdue this past Tuesday.
Saturday’s contest will be the only meeting between the in-state rivals this season. And while head coach Tom Izzo isn’t putting too much into it, sophomore point guard Cassius Winston said at practice Thursday the single meeting between the teams makes the upcoming game a little bit more special.
“It puts more on it, there’s no other shot. That’s our opportunity to beat them this year,” Winston said.
Here are a few things to watch for in the game:
Containing Wagner and Matthews
The Wolverines have a variety of options on offense.
Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson are serviceable seniors who have been consistent throughout their time wearing the maize and blue. Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers have both made nice contributions as freshmen, both shooting better then 42 percent from 3-point territory.
But the two players who stand out on the stat sheet for U-M are junior forward Moritz Wagner and junior guard Charles Matthews. Matthews and Wagner are averaging 15.6 points and 13.9 points per game, respectively, while connecting on more than half of their shot attempts.
Matthews, a transfer from the University of Kentucky, takes the most shots per game of any other Wolverine and has scored in double figures in each of his last eight games. Wagner has upped his production every year he has been with the program and has become arguably the Wolverines most scouted player by opponents.
Matthews will likely be matched up against sophomore guards Miles Bridges and Joshua Langford throughout the game, while Wagner probably will see a lot of freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. and sophomore forward Nick Ward. While Wagner and Matthews are not coming in off of their best games, 11 points in 29 minutes for Wagner, 5-of-14 shooting for Matthews, they both are capable of giving the Spartans fits.
More assertive Bridges
Izzo said after the win against Rutgers that he wants Miles Bridges to be more “selfish” on the offensive end of the court.
Bridges leads this Spartan team in scoring at 16.5 points per game, but was limited to just 11 points on 3-of-10 shooting in 34 minutes in the win over the Scarlet Knights, and didn’t make his first field goal until there was 7:43 left in regulation.
While Izzo has consistently harped on how much Bridges has improved his game this season, particularly on defense and playmaking for his teammates, the Hall of Fame coach said he wants to see Bridges be more aggressive in regards to him creating plays for himself.
“I’m going to teach him how to be a little more of a jerk," Izzo said after MSU's win on Wednesday.
Better shooting output
If the Spartans want to come out victorious against a hot U-M team, they’re going to have to shoot the ball better than they have been doing in their last couple of games.
The recent two-game stretch is the first time all season the team has had an overall field goal percentage lower than 45 percent in consecutive games.
The Wolverines are holding their opponents to 42 percent overall shooting percentage, but MSU has shown all season that it’s capable of topping that number. Prior to their loss to the Buckeyes, the Spartans had shot better than 52 percent in six straight contests.
Michael Duke: MSU 85 U-M 80
Casey Harrison: MSU 76 U-M 72