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Preview: MSU begins March Madness with a trip to Michigan

March 1, 2022
<p>MSU’s junior guard Tyson Walker (2) and Michigan’s graduate student guard Eli Brooks (55) grapple for possession during MSU’s game against the University of Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. The Spartans ultimately beat the Wolverines 83-67.</p>

MSU’s junior guard Tyson Walker (2) and Michigan’s graduate student guard Eli Brooks (55) grapple for possession during MSU’s game against the University of Michigan on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022. The Spartans ultimately beat the Wolverines 83-67.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

The calendar just changed to March and that means one thing: It is championship season in college basketball. 

Michigan State is looking to build momentum in the three games during this final week of the regular season after taking down then No. 4 Purdue on Saturday.

It was a hard-fought win for the Spartans, who played some of their best basketball, if not their best, to secure the victory. Senior forward Gabe Brown and freshman guard Max Christie had strong shooting performances to end their streak of bad games and junior point guard Tyson Walker was the late-game hero again, winning the game with a three with 1.4 seconds left.

“I was pleased by doing the things we needed to do to win,” MSU Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “It was not only made shots, but I think we got a lot of play from a lot of guys. We had a lot of guys in double figures or close and made a lot of effort related things.”

The win provided some life to Michigan State’s season after losing five of the last six games before Saturday. The win moved MSU to 10-7 in conference play, good for sixth in the Big Ten. MSU still has a chance to secure a top-four finish and a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament if they win out and Iowa drops a game. 

The first of three games this week comes against rival Michigan. After the first matchup between the teams was canceled in January due to a COVID-19 outbreak on Michigan’s team, the game was sandwiched in the final week of the season.

The Spartans beat the Wolverines convincingly in the first matchup on Jan. 29, winning 83-67. MSU had four scorers in double digits in that game, led by Christie with 16, and sophomore point guard A.J. Hoggard had a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists.

MSU will have a quick turnaround after the game to travel to Columbus to take on Ohio State on Thursday before finishing the season at home against Maryland on Sunday. Izzo sees the busy week as a challenge and opportunity. 

“We have that real quick turnaround and another quick turnaround,” Izzo said. “How do we do that? That's going to prepare us for the Big Ten tournament, (and) hopefully for the NCAA tournament.”

Scouting the Opponent

Michigan’s up-and-down season has continued into the last week of the season. The Wolverines are 15-12 overall and 10-8 in conference. Last week, Michigan went 1-1 with a win over Rutgers and a narrow loss to Illinois this weekend.

Assistant coach Phil Martelli was the Wolverines’ acting head coach in those games and will be for the rest of the regular season after head coach Juwan Howard was suspended for hitting Wisconsin assistant Joe Krabbenhoft after their loss to the Badgers on Feb. 20.

“Martelli, who's taken over, he's got a lot of experience,” Izzo said. “And (assistant coach) Saddi Washington, of course, has been there for a long time too so they got some guys on the staff that have been there. And just like here, tomorrow if I wasn't here I'm sure it'll keep moving on.”

The Wolverines are led by sophomore center Hunter Dickinson, who averages 17.8 points (fifth in conference) and 8.3 rebounds (fourth in conference). Dickinson was a dominant force in the first matchup and scored 25 points and will be yet another challenge inside for MSU defensively.

The other key returner from last year is graduate student point guard Eli Brooks, who Izzo says is the straw that stirs the drink for Michigan. Brooks was relatively quiet in the first game, only scoring eight points on 11 shots, but has put up double-digit points in seven of the nine games since then.

Michigan also gets significant contributions from freshman forwards Moussa Diabaté and Caleb Houstan. Diabate plays in the frontcourt with Dickinson to form one of the scarier big man duos in the country while Houstan leads the way for Michigan in terms of three-point shooting. The freshmen combined for 22 points and 14 rebounds in the first game against MSU.

“It's a very talented team that has gone through the same thing as the rest of the league and the rest of the country has gone through — some ups and downs trying to find consistency,” Izzo said.

The second iteration of MSU-Michigan will start at 8:30 p.m. and be televised on FS1.

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