Sunday, September 26, 2021

Preview: After postponements, MSU and Michigan women's hoops meet in Ann Arbor

February 16, 2021
<p>Then-sophomore guard Nia Clouden (24) pushes past a defender during the game against Michigan at the Breslin Center on Feb. 23, 2020. The Spartans fell to the Wolverines, 65-57. </p>

Then-sophomore guard Nia Clouden (24) pushes past a defender during the game against Michigan at the Breslin Center on Feb. 23, 2020. The Spartans fell to the Wolverines, 65-57.

Photo by Connor Desilets | The State News

The third time's the charm, right?

Michigan State and No. 11 Michigan are finally set to face off after two sets of postponements affected their two previously scheduled matchups in the month of January.

The Wolverines (11-1, 6-1 Big Ten) returned to action for the first time in nearly three weeks when they defeated Purdue last Thursday, 62-49. Michigan star forward Naz Hillmon picked up right where she left off, nabbing a double-double with 21 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

However, the Wolverines had to knock the rust off a bit as they shot a poor 38.9% from the field, including 2-of-15 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over 20 times.

The Spartans are fresh off a 13-point victory over Penn State on the road as Nia Clouden and Alyza Winston combined for 28 points to move to 11-5 on the year and 6-5 in the Big Ten.

Here are three keys for each team as they face off at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon on the Big Ten Network:

Michigan’s Keys

1. Knock off the rust

Any time you go three weeks without any play, things aren’t going to go as smoothly as they did before.

On the season, Michigan is shooting 33% from three but shot 2-of-15 against the Boilermakers. Usual three-point marksman Leigha Brown shot 1-of-5 from three in her first game since Jan. 3 against Northwestern but was able to get to 14 shots at the free-throw line.

After an extended pause due to COVID-19 issues, it's not easy to get back into rhythm. It has been one of the major issues for many teams and in basketball especially where rhythm and conditioning are crucial. Against an opponent like Michigan State, they’ll have to get back up to speed fast.

2. Establish Hillmon

It’s a lot easier when you have someone with the star power of Hillmon to shake off the rust and get back to playing a high level of basketball. She scored 50 points in the game against Ohio State on Jan. 21.

Hillmon is the leading candidate for Big Ten Player of the Year as of now since she is a double-double machine and someone who got recognition from the King himself.

Michigan State’s interior defense has had issues staying out of foul trouble and hasn’t even necessarily played a team with someone with the post play like Hillmon this season.

3. Bringing back Brown

Brown returned to the floor for the first time since Jan. 3 in U of M's matchup against Purdue and was the team’s second-leading scorer at 19.8 points per game.

Michigan didn’t skip a beat without her going 3-1 over her absence. However, bringing back someone who commands as many shots and minutes as Brown does into the rotation is never easy.

Brown did a nice job when her shot wasn’t falling to get to the line and make an impact that way but at some point, she will need to have that shot fall against teams at the top of the Big Ten.

Michigan State’s keys

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1. Play four complete quarters

The Spartans have been inches away all season from securing big wins, and it has been slow offensive stretches in quarters and halves that have done them in against AP Top 25 opponents.

Most recently was against Northwestern at home where Michigan State was down big at the half and stormed back to take the lead, but it still wasn’t enough to win.

“I don’t know what happened in that first half, but that’s probably the most I’ve seen red in a long time,” Merchant said. “You want what’s best for your players, and you want them to be the best they can be. Whenever you have to coach attitude and effort, and we didn’t have bad attitudes, I just wanted them to have one. In the first half, I was like, ‘Can someone get an attitude about this right now? We’re getting walloped.'"

The second half against Northwestern was an entirely different squad.

“That second-half team, I’ll take to war any day," Merchant said. “We can’t have lapses like that. We have to be better and have better leadership.”

At times this team looks ready to take the next step, but that’s when the step back actually comes.

2. Consistent post play

One of the main keys of this entire matchup will be foul trouble, specifically looking at Alisia Smith and Taiyier Parks who will both be having to combat Hillmon underneath.

Since Janai Crooms and Smith have entered the lineup, post scoring has improved with Smith and Parks combining for 19.6 points per game in those games with Crooms and Smith in the starting lineup. Prior to that, the two were combining for 15.1 points per game.

The production from Smith and Parks isn’t the issue, but keeping them on the floor is. Expect to see a lot of Mardrekia Cook in this one, who is one of the team’s best defenders and can help fill minutes for Parks and Smith along with providing high-quality defense on Hillmon throughout.

3. Win the turnover battle

With a team that can score like Michigan, you must hold onto the ball.

The Spartans are still one of the best teams in assist to turnover ratio in the conference, but 18 turnovers against Northwestern and 24 against Maryland in their last matchup against the Terrapins was essentially a death sentence for the Spartans against two high-quality teams.

If Michigan State cannot hold onto the ball, it’s going to be a tough evening in Ann Arbor.

Prediction

Hillmon is going to do what she does best in this one, getting a double-double and scoring over 20 points. While the Spartans have a lot to prove, they have yet to play a full four-quarter game and until then, they’re not beating a team of this caliber.

Michigan 71, Michigan 67

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