It feels like it's been a long time since this game really mattered. Michigan has beaten the Spartans a couple times in Crisler Arena over the past few years, but they have fallen short of the NCAA tournament time and time again. The six years of the Tommy Amaker era saw Michigan take a couple steps forward, but in the end the improvements proved to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. Amaker did win a few more games than Brian Elerbee (Thank God) but another coach has come and gone, and now John Beilein gets his shot at steering this club into the tournament.
These two programs are on different levels, that much is undeniable. The Michigan program is showing signs of life and with a few more wins could be on the brink of their first NCAA tournament berth since 1998. In contrast, since UCLA knocked Michigan out of that NCAA tournament 11 years ago, Michigan State has won a National Championship, accumulated three Big Ten crowns, been to four Final Fours, and made it to the NCAA tournament each and every year.
Naysayers might say that a rivalry can't exist when you have two programs that have traveled down such different paths over the last decade or so. They are dead wrong, this rivalry is alive and Tom Izzo makes that much clear:
"Everybody wanted a rivalry, well, you've got one,"
This rivalry is very much doing just fine and Michigan has a chance to pump a little more life into the rivalry tonight. In-state rivalries are just different; households are divided, friendships are split, and pride is on the line. Try telling Manny Harris or Kalin Lucas this game doesn’t mean just a little bit more, that this matchup doesn’t get just a little bit more attention, and they might have something to say. Michigan-Michigan State is the rivalry that burns in my heart, every winter this is the rivalry that matters. I'll worry about that team in Columbus next fall.
In-state talent is the foundation of both programs, so naturally recruiting lies at the heart of the rivalry. Over 65% of both teams' scoring comes from in-state players and four of the five highest profile players in this game all hail from the state of Michigan: Manny Harris, Kalin Lucas, Goran Suton, and DeShawn Sims. You would be crazy to think that any of these guys don't understand the rivalry.
If there’s one guy on Michigan’s roster who learned firsthand just how heated this rivalry can be on the recruiting trail, it’s DeShawn Sims. DeShawn had narrowed his school list to Michigan, Michigan State, and Syracuse and started mentioning a "one school list" early in the summer of 2005. Izzo continued to recruit DeShawn throughout the summer despite the consensus feeling that Michigan was the school on that one team list. When DeShawn informed Izzo that he was headed to Michigan, Izzo reportedly let him have a piece of his mind in a way that only Tom Izzo can. Izzo berated him for wasting his time and told him that he should have just committed to Michigan instead of leading him on. Rumors and speculation spread like wildfire between enraged coaches, reporters, and message board posters in a nonsensical way that only an in-state rivalry could stir up.
The star studded sophomore class that will star in tonight's game is made up of long time friends from the city of Detroit. Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, and Manny Harris (pictured above) starred together for Detroit area AAU team The Family, tearing apart the best high school competition in the country. Manny and Kalin are still good friends, but that didn't stop Kalin from coming up with fake trash talk, that supposedly came straight from Manny Harris' mouth, to motivate Travis Walton to beat one of the worst Wolverine teams in recent history:
"I was telling Travis how Manny was talking stuff when actually he wasn't," Lucas said. "I was just getting him pumped up and juiced for the game and it worked."
What exactly was Lucas saying?
"I was just saying, 'Manny said you too little, you too small, you're 6-1, you can't hold him, you can't check him,'" Lucas said. "I just had to get in Travis' head a little bit and Travis went out there and played great defense."
How important is this game to John Beilein? The head coach -- widely regarded as one of the best teachers of the game by analysts, scouts, and coaches across the country -- was rejected early on by Detroit PSL coaches. Beilein dug himself further into a hole when he offered Zack Novak and Stu Douglass, two unknowns from Indiana, rather than pursue the mid-level talent available in the PSL. Leading two Detroit kids (Manny and DeShawn) to a win over Michigan State tonight would certainly be a message to those coaches that they should start to pay attention to the headman in Ann Arbor.
The first head-to-head recruiting battle between John Beilein and Tom Izzo was over Draymond Green. Green turned down the opportunity for ample playing time in Michigan's sparse front court, and is now playing only 9.3 minutes per game for the Spartans. Many recruiting analysts thought Draymond was headed to Ann Arbor before a late Michigan State offer swayed Day-Day to the green and white. It's hard to interpret that as anything more than a statement from Tom Izzo – stay out of my backyard.
The recruiting battle between these two schools will wage on. Both schools pulled in big men from Detroit in the 2009 class, but have yet to battle over any other recruits. All eyes are pointing toward the class of 2010 where top in-state talent like Trey Zeigler, Ray McCallum, Isaiah Sykes, and Alex Gauna are already drawing Michigan and Michigan State interest. Izzo drew first blood in the fledgling battle, gaining a commitment from Pershing High School 4-star point guard Keith Appling.
Forging An Identity
All great coaches and programs have an identity. One of the problems with the Tommy Amaker era was that those teams never really had something to hang their hats on. There are many ways to win in college basketball and every great coach has his own style. Tom Izzo built the Michigan State program on defense and rebounding, while John Beilein's teams have been constructed around the three point shot and eliminating turnovers.
Is one way better than the other? I don't think so. Izzo has the stronger resume at this point in his career but he's been at a high-major program for a much longer period of time than Beilein. Beilein has won at every level and right now appears to have Michigan headed in the right direction, maybe even ahead of schedule.
The contrasting styles of the two teams will make for an interesting game tonight, and a hell of a rivalry down the line. Michigan State is the best rebounding team in the country. They rebound 41.8% of their misses and 73% of their opponents' misses, the only team to rank in the top 10 in both rebounding categories.
Michigan shoots almost 50% of their shots from behind the arc and while they haven't knocked them down consistently, they have shown just how potent the offense can be when the shots are going in. Regardless of their shooting struggles, Michigan has turned into a team that values the ball. They turn the ball over on only 17.2% of their possessions, 15th best in the country. Holding onto the ball kept Michigan in plenty of games, and even helped lead to a couple huge upsets.
How did Michigan beat UCLA? Not with shooting or rebounding. They shot only 43% from the field and allowed UCLA to rebound over 40% of their misses. Michigan won that game by winning the turnover battle, turning it over on only 15.8% their possessions, while forcing UCLA to turn it over on 29.8% of theirs.
John Beilein and Tom Izzo certainly respect each other and will go out of their way to be extremely classy in public -- no short jokes or moments of silence here. But don't get it twisted, they aren't rooting for each other:
"Am I gonna sit here and look you in the eye and say, 'I'm pulling for Michigan?" Izzo asked. "Well if I do that, or John Beilein (says he's pulling for Michigan State), we're both drinking something funny."
There is no love lost between the Michigan and Michigan State fans, and with only one game scheduled this year, tonight’s result will be the center of any trash talk for the next 12 months. An airing of grievances could go on forever. Michigan State fans will complain about the Fab Five "disrespecting" the Spartan block "S" in the middle of the Breslin Center. Michigan fans will complain about Izzo running up the score on Mateen Cleaves' senior night, 114-63. If you’re a fan of a team of either side of this rivalry, something over the last 15 or 20 years rips you apart -- for me its hearing thousands of Michigan State fans in Ann Arbor chanting “We Own Crisler” during the darkest days of Michigan basketball.
Tonight's game is huge for each program for very different reasons. Michigan State is looking to get the proverbial monkey off their back and win their first Big Ten Championship since 2001. Michigan is trying to shed the weight of the 1000 pound gorilla that is the NCAA tournament. Remember, Manny Harris was only 8 years old the last time Michigan made the dance. Michigan athletic director Bill Martin was quick to call the Duke win "a watershed event", but if Michigan can't win a few more games down the stretch it won't be anything more than a preview of the Michigan team we might see down the road.
Dylan Burkhardt's work can be found on his own site, UM Hoops, which can be found at www.umhoops.com. UM Hoops focuses on all aspects of Michigan basketball. If you are looking for more coverage of tonight's game make sure to check out his statistics-centric preview, interview with KJ of The Spartans Weblog, as well as KJ's interview.
Ball transfer with 19 minutes left in a close contest:
"Something must be done about Michigan basketball … [Beilein] must get control of his program."
Flying elbow with under a minute left in a twelve-point game:
"There was nothing wrong with Hansbrough going after that rebound. There was nothing wrong with him trying to score, or with Henderson fouling him. The problem was it was an excessive foul. The rule as written has nothing to do with intent. I don't think Henderson intended to hurt him, but that's not the issue. It was a foul that was too hard. It doesn't make either of them bad kids."
It's been brought up again and again since Tommy Amaker was deservedly fired: Jay Bilas has completely lost his head about Michigan and shouldn't talk about them, ever. Two years ago ESPN ranked the most underachieving programs from 1997 to 2007, and Michigan was #1 with a bullet. Bilas left them off his ballot entirely. A month earlier he attempted to paint the Michigan basketball program as a decrepit wasteland completely demolished by sanctions then ten years old. Midway through Beilein's first season Bilas laid into some harmless comment by Beilein in a manner so stupid it drew a fisk from Jim Carty, who at that time was not a blogger but a sportswriter. Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski picked it up, too:
The more Bilas shills for Amaker, the more people in basketball laugh at him. Unlike Amaker, Beilein never had the ultimate coaching godfather to pick up the phone and get him a job.
“C’mon Jay, that is terrible,” an NBA scout who watched Amaker’s team regularly in the Big Ten emailed me this week after reading Bilas’ blog rant. “Almost laughable, really.”
Even when Bilas is attempting to defend his ridiculous comments about Michigan in the wake of the Harris ejection he fabricates:
"I respect his right to protect his kid and stand up for him, and I respect that, but that doesn't mean I have to buy it. I don't buy it. I saw (the play) 100 times. That's not a basketball play. That's not the way the game is played. How many games are played every day, high school, college or pro, and players execute rip-through moves, and how many noses are broken?"
This is in reference to Beilein describing it as a basketball play. Bilas leaves something out, though:
Players and coaches from both sides said afterward they thought it simply was a "basketball play." Kramer said he didn't consider it a "dirty" play.
Both Painter and Kramer said they saw nothing dirty in the play. Again: Bilas is suggesting that Harris intentionally clocked Kramer in the face because he was frustrated with 19 minutes left in a game Michigan was leading. But Gerald Henderson didn't intend to hurt Tyler Hansborough when he gave him a flying ninja elbow in garbage time. One of these things is "not a basketball play". The other doesn't consider itself a basketball play, it considers itself a leader.
Every time Bilas opens his mouth about Michigan he flushes more of his credibility down the toilet.
Etc.: Carty goes to town on Bilas on WTKA.