Know Thy Enemy is a weekly Q&A where the perspective changes from the eyes of The State News to the eyes of the student newspaper of Michigan State basketball's opponent.
Desperately needing to snap their two-game losing streak, Michigan State men's basketball will travel to Ann Arbor on Saturday in hopes of putting their conference record back on track.
The Michigan Wolverines (13-9 overall, 4-7 Big Ten) will look to protect their home court and redeem themselves after losing to the Spartans 87-69 on Jan. 5. Michigan, which was at one point ranked No. 4 in the AP poll, has struggled as of late. The Wolverines' hardship stems from the absence of junior forward Isaiah Livers, who has struggled with a groin injury and re-injury that makes him still up in the air for Saturday.
Q: In the last meeting between MSU and Michigan, the Spartans' senior guard Cassius Winston had a career-high 32 points that led to MSU’s victory. What do the Wolverines have to change this time around in order to stop Winston on offense? Who should block Winston and how would they go about defending him?
A: Winston’s first game against Michigan was a masterpiece. He’s one of the premier players in the conference for a reason. That, coupled with the senior year sentiment and rivalry implications, could’ve been responsible for his 32-point outburst against the Wolverines last month. I don't think there’s anything that can be done to entirely “stop” Winston, though I think there are effective measures that can be used to limit his impact. Michigan played a lot of drop coverage out of the pick-and-roll in the first meeting, which allowed the Winston-Tillman combo to exploit a lot of defensive holes. Keep an eye on how the Wolverines defend ball screens on Saturday.
Q: After a pretty dominant start to their season, the Wolverines have seen some close, tough losses against Big Ten opponents. What does the team need to change in order to turn around their in-conference record? What do they need to improve on in order to seal a win on Saturday against MSU?
A: First and foremost, Michigan needs a healthy Isaiah Livers. The junior forward was leading the team in points per game and held the best 3-point percentage in the Big Ten before going down with a groin injury. Last week, he re-injured himself in his first game back against Illinois. His status for Saturday’s game against the Spartans remains uncertain, but if he’s healthy, Michigan’s somewhat slim chances improve quite a bit.
Q: Senior center Jon Teske led the Wolverines in their last matchup against the Spartans. What does he bring to the court and what do the Spartans need to do to stop him?
A: Teske’s imposing 7-foot-1, 265-pound frame gives him a size advantage against most Big Ten frontcourt players. At just 6-foot-8, Xavier Tillman is at a significant height disadvantage when guarding him in the post. Though Tillman's strength is on par with Teske’s, look for Michigan to create post-up opportunities for Teske to use his height, especially if Thomas Kithier isn’t at 100% because of his illness. Teske’s right-handed post hook and baseline drop-step are two moves that have improved drastically under the tutelage of Juwan Howard.
Q: Since the last time MSU and Michigan met on Jan. 5 who has emerged on Michigan’s roster? Who will put up a challenge to MSU?
A: Sophomore forward Brandon Johns Jr. and redshirt junior center Austin Davis have been making strides lately. Both turned in solid performances against Rutgers over the weekend, with Johns scoring a game-high 20 points and Davis shooting 4-for-4 as a spark off the bench. Ironically enough, Johns is an East Lansing native, making Saturday’s showdown all the more personal.
Q: What is your score prediction and why?
A: MSU 73, Michigan 61: This prediction hinges on Livers’ presumed absence. Should he play, I think Michigan could cut the deficit to within four, but I think State escapes Ann Arbor with a win either way. The Spartans are the deeper, more well-rounded group and having a veteran like Winston at the head of the snake makes all the difference in a matchup like this.