Monday, November 29, 2021

Preview: Michigan State and Michigan close out seasons with home-and-home series

March 4, 2021
<p>Sophomore forward Aaron Henry (11) blocks a shot during the game against Michigan Feb. 8, 2020 at the Crisler Center.</p>

Sophomore forward Aaron Henry (11) blocks a shot during the game against Michigan Feb. 8, 2020 at the Crisler Center.

Photo by Matt Schmucker | The State News

The Michigan State men's basketball team (14-10, 8-10 Big Ten) and AP-ranked No. 2 Michigan (18-2, 13-2 Big Ten) are set to duke it out in a home-and-home series to close out their regular season.

The Spartans are coming off of their second win against Indiana, while the Wolverines are looking to rebound from their 23-point loss against No. 4 Illinois. But the game likely is more important for Michigan State, who is clinging to the NCAA Tournament bubble after spending much of the season outside of the postseason picture.

The Spartans, now on pace for a 20-game regular season after COVID-19 put them in a schedule spiral. MSU has won four of their last five games, averaging 70.3 points and 38 rebounds per game and shooting 42.6% from the field – a marked improvement from much of the play that Izzo and his coaching staff saw on the floor early this season.

The Spartans are led by Aaron Henry. The junior forward is averaging 15.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. He has posted 22 double-figure games, with seven 20-plus point games – including three of his last five. If MSU hopes to take down another AP Top 5 team, Henry will likely have to play one of his best games of the year.

Joshua Langford is tied with Gabe Brown for tops on the team with 33 three-point makes despite both missing time with positive COVID-19 cases. Brown has logged 15 three-pointers in his last seven games, including a back-to-back pair against Indiana on Tuesday that helped push MSU over the edge in a 64-58 win.

Foster Loyer will be sitting out for the remainder of the season after re-injuring his shoulder. The last game he was featured in was against Purdue on Feb. 16. Since, he has been on the bench coaching his teammates and elected to get surgery earlier this week.

Michigan coming off a bad loss against Illinois

The Wolverines, on track to earn their first Big Ten title since 2014, have only lost twice this season, averaging 77.6 points and 38.3 rebounds per game and shooting at 49.1% from the field.

The Wolverines are led by Hunter Dickinson. As a seven-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week, he averages 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game and is shooting 60% from the field. Following the likes of Henry, Dickinson has raked in 16 double-figure games with four being of 20 points or more. The freshman was also named 2021 Naismith Trophy Player of the Year Semifinalist on Thursday morning alongside Iowa center Luka Garza.

Isaiah Livers brings the maize and blue versatility as one of U-M's top two-way players. Averaging 14.2 points per game, he is only 31 points away from reaching 1,000 career points.

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Franz Wagner has increased his scoring average to 12.8 per game, shooting 51.4% from the field, thanks to his ability to get to the basket, and shooting 59.5% on two-point field goals. His ability to create for others in transition and while attacking the rim is one that can cause issues for any defense.

Mike Smith is eight assists away from reaching a collegiate career-high of 500. He averages five per game this season, ranked third in the Big Ten. He has recorded 11 games with six assists or more, hitting a career-high of 10 at Minnesota on Jan. 16 – his first double-digit assist performance ever.

Tipoff for the first of the two games between in-state rivals is slated for 7 p.m. Thursday on ESPN. Sunday's game is set for 4:30 p.m. and will be broadcasted on CBS.

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