#15 Michigan (26-7, 13-5)
vs #6 MSU (29-3, 16-2)
Madison Square Garden
The City So Ni--
damn you rapaport
|WHEN||2 pm ET, Saturday|
MSU -4 (KenPom)
MSU -3.4 (Torvik)
MSU -3.5 (Vegas)
the name's Ad-Rock and I'm here to say / we love pizza and saying ayyyyyyyy (RIP MCA)
Rivalry/banner aspects aside, Michigan is probably playing with house money at the moment. They're up to a five-seed in the latest update of the Bracket Matrix even though a handful of brackets inexplicably list them as an eight-seed (or even as low as a nine!). Torvik's teamcast has M as the top five-seed. A neutral-court loss to State in their third game in three days shouldn't knock them from that line unless the committee is up to some weird stuff again. (Admittedly, that is far from out of the question.)
A victory would put the Wolverines in serious contention for a four-seed. It'd also lock up a season sweep of MSU despite not playing them at Crisler during one of the Spartans' better seasons. It'd also give Michigan a chance to add yet another banner in the Beilein era. These are all good things. I'd like to see them.
THE LINEUP CARD
Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.
|G||5||Cassius Winston||So.||6'0, 185||74||23||130||Not At All|
|3rd nationally in assist rate, 2nd in 3-point shooting. Turnover-prone, poor on-ball D.|
|G||1||Josh Langford||So.||6'5, 210||64||21||109||No|
|Solid shooter who likes the midrange, works mostly off the ball.|
|F||22||Miles Bridges||So.||6'7, 230||74||25||117||No|
|Powerful, skilled all-around force.|
|F||2||Jaren Jackson Jr.||Fr.||6'11, 242||49||23||118||Not At All|
|Unicorn. Great shot-blocker/rebounder, hits threes, huge dunks. Foul-prone.|
|C||44||Nick Ward||So.||6'8, 250||42||29||119||Very|
|Tremendous post scorer. Great rebounder and shot-blocker. Drives Izzo nuts.|
|G||20||Matt McQuaid||Jr.||6'4, 200||59||14||123||Not At All|
|Just A Shooter™ type making 40% of threes.|
|F||25||Kenny Goins||Jr.||6'6, 230||47||11||119||Very|
|Hustle guy, not sure why he ever plays over Xavier Tillman or JJJ at C.|
|G||11||Tum Tum Nairn||Sr.||5'10, 175||30||10||113||Yes|
|Out there for defense/leadership. All but ignored on offense.|
*last five games
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]
The Fightin' Plausible Deniabilities fended off a Wisconsin team that stayed with them until the (terrible) final possession of yesterday's quarterfinal to earn their chance at revenge. That gave MSU 13 straight victories dating back to, you guessed it, the Michigan game. That sounds a little more impressive than it looks on paper; they've only won one game against a top-five B1G team in that span (by three at home vs. Purdue) and had close calls against Indiana, Northwestern, and Wisconsin (twice).
Despite that caveat, they appear to be rounding into tournament form. Since the last time these teams played—preview here—Tom Izzo has made some adjustments to his rotation. The most dangerous one is the lineup he's now using to close a lot of games, moving all-world freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. to center, shifting Miles Bridges to his more natural power forward spot, and bringing in sharpshooter Matt McQuaid.
Jackson has continued to improve since the first time these teams faced off. He's shooting 61/41/79 with a top-five block rate, he's strong on the glass, and he's cut down on turnovers. JJJ's only real bugaboo is foul trouble; he fouled out in 15 minutes yesterday and hasn't cracked 20 minutes in five of his last seven games. Duncan Robinson made Jackson work hard for his 19 points the last time around, but I'm sure he wouldn't mind facing Kenny Goins instead.
Goins has played a surprising number of minutes lately, both because of foul trouble for JJJ and Izzo's continued love-hate relationship with remarkably talented and productive big man Nick Ward, who played only 15 minutes yesterday despite committing a lone foul. That's been a largely inexplicable issue but it could work out fine in today's game; Moe Wagner won his matchup with Ward decisively in January. JJJ getting extended minutes at center may be MSU's best way to combat M's five-out offense.
Point guard Cassius Winston has finally absorbed most of Tum Tum Nairn's minutes, and he should stay out there so long as he isn't turning the ball over and isn't getting regularly dusted by Zavier Simpson. Neither is a guarantee: Winston can get sloppy with the ball and Simpson dropped 16 points, five assists, and no turnovers while harassing Winston into a 3-for-7, two-assist, four-turnover outing when they matched up.
Shooting guard Josh Langford has been more down than up lately, which has opened up more chances for McQuaid, who's been lighting it up from beyond the arc over the last month.
The other reserve to watch is freshman big man Xavier Tillman, who's given Izzo quality minutes lately and should probably be playing all of Goins' time—he's a better rebounder, shot-blocker, and finisher, and has become increasingly comfortable as his debut season has wore on.
State's defense remains one of the toughest in the country, especially inside the arc. They're the country's best shot-blocking team (without fouling much, impressively) and two-point defense; their main weakness, an inability to force turnovers, wouldn't come into play much against Michigan regardless. The Wolverines are going to need to use their perimeter shooting to open up the interior. Thank goodness yesterday happened.
MSU's offense borders on elite despite some ugly turnover numbers because they shoot well, especially on three-pointers, and they're fifth nationally in offensive rebounding. Michigan's improbable edge on the offensive boards in the first game would be a very nice thing to repeat.
Limit JJJ's defensive impact with Wagner. Even though Jackson recorded six blocks the first time these teams played, Michigan's five-out attack mostly took him away from his preferred defensive hangout near the paint, and the results were apparent: Michigan scored 1.17 PPP against one of the stingiest defenses in the country. If Moe Wagner plays like he did in the first game (27 points) or yesterday, Michigan should be in good shape. If he's off or in foul trouble, the offense is going to bog down if Jon Teske has to play extended minutes.
This is also a better offensive matchup for Duncan Robinson and a hopefully-no-longer-broken Jordan Poole than it is for Charles Matthews. Driving into the teeth of this defense doesn't work so well and Matthews learned that the last time, going 3-for-10 with three turnovers. Hopefully he'll focus on defense, rebounding, and keeping the ball moving when he's out there.
Win the point guard battle. This was a surprisingly decisive win for Simpson over Winston in the first game. That's become less surprising as Simpson has broken out, and his play yesterday portends good things for this afternoon—Winston isn't a good on-ball defender and Z has been aggressive and productive off the dribble. Simpson's defense will also play a huge role. MSU's offense doesn't click nearly as well when Winston isn't an efficient distributor and their spacing dies when they have to turn to Tum Tum.
Stick to shooters and run them off the line. Other than Simpson shutting down Winston, the biggest defensive key to the last victory was M's refusal to allow open perimeter looks for MSU, which went only 3-for-13 on threes. I'd much rather see Ward, JJJ, and Bridges try to go to work one-on-one on the block than see M's guards/wings help and give up three-point looks; State has too many good shooters, especially Winston and McQuaid. It's also quite beneficial to run these guys off the line. Per Synergy, MSU grades out in the 99th percentile on three-point jumpers; they're in the 48th percentile on long twos (17' to the three-point line), already far less efficient shots anyway.
Win the game. Obligatory.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
MSU by 4.