Jan. 24, 2014
By Jenny Herstein, U-M Public & Media Relations
Michigan captured its second straight win against a top-10 team on Wednesday night (Jan. 22), defeating Iowa 75-67. The 6-0 start to Big Ten play is the Wolverines' best opening to the conference season since 2002-2003.
With several difficult games behind them, Michigan is poised for what may be its biggest challenge to date in the conference season, a road game against No. 3 Michigan State.
Saturday's clash between the interstate rivals marks the fifth consecutive meeting in which both teams have been ranked -- the longest such streak in series history. In each of those past five meetings, the home team has prevailed.
Michigan's last win in East Lansing was a defining moment for Beilein's program. Following a six-game losing streak, in 2010-2011 the Wolverines came from behind to notch a 61-57 win against the Spartans. The game, highlighted by an animated timeout speech from captain Zack Novak, turned the Wolverines' season around and helped propel them to the NCAA Tournament.
Since then, Michigan has played twice at the Breslin Center and lost both contests by large margins. Their last trip to East Lansing resulted in a 75-52 loss to the Spartans.
"Trey (Burke) got in foul trouble, and they just had a great game plan," said U-M head coach John Beilein of last year's struggle.
"They're strong," he added of Michigan State. "They really have a great plan of playing physical basketball. If our guys back down from that, we'll do like we did last year. We cannot back down to that."
Michigan (6-0 Big Ten) and Michigan State (7-0 Big Ten) are the only remaining undefeated teams in the conference. The Spartans are 18-1, with lone blemish being a 79-65 loss to North Carolina in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. While spectators may savor the rivalry and the meeting's conference implications, Beilein is adamant that his team will approach the game just like any other.
"We go into every game like it's the last game -- like it's the biggest rivalry of all time," Beilein said. "I realize for our fans, this is a huge thing. And it is huge for us. We just play so many games.
Is it easier to get up for this game? Absolutely. I expect our guys to be there no matter who we're playing."
With the short turnaround from Wednesday's matchup (Jan. 22) with the Hawkeyes to a game against the Spartans on Saturday, Beilein hopes that all the work his players put into practicing their transition game in preparation for Iowa will carry over.
"We went into Iowa worrying about tiring the guys out because we worked so hard in practice on our transition game," Beilein said. "I hope there's a huge carryover. But, they (Michigan State) are even better than Iowa in it. We're still working on it today, probably 15 minutes overall with what we call O-D-O, offense to defense to offense. It is a big part of today's practice. We still don't want to tire them out, but I think it will carry over."
Rebounding was another emphasis for Michigan in the game against Iowa that will reappear as a key against the Spartans. Michigan managed to keep pace on the boards with Hawkeyes, who were outrebounding opponents by 9.8 rebounds per game. The Wolverines fell just one rebound short of Iowa's total.
Michigan will rely on a similar performance in East Lansing in order to prevent the Spartans from getting easy put-backs, as they were able to last season.
"When we did stop them last year, MSU's will was to rebound it in," said Beilein. "It just killed us in the first half. Hopefully, we're better. We're a year stronger in those areas. Hopefully, we're going to be better at getting rebounds, because, between that and the turnovers, it was really hard to defend them."
Limiting turnovers is another point of emphasis for Beilein, who believes Michigan has to impose its offensive game plan against the Spartans and prevent MSU from controlling the pace of the game.
"They're leading the league in steals. We got to keep them from taking the ball from us and getting their transition game," said Beilein. "Their transition game is good enough as it is. Even after a make, they're terrific. So, now you throw them the ball, and they're going to get buckets on us. If we can control tempo a little bit, our offensive will has to be imposed on them, where we can either run our sets or option out of our sets at the right time to get baskets, to get open shots. And, then, when we get open shots, we've got to make them."
However, one factor that neither team will be able to control is injuries and illnesses.
Michigan State's Branden Dawson, who leads Michigan State with 8.7 rebounds while contributing 10.2 points per game, is not expected to play after recently breaking his hand.
The Spartans have also played their last three games without senior Adreian Payne, who sustained a foot injury. In 15 games, he has averaged 16.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per contest while shooting 52.4 percent from the field.
Yet even with two of its leading scorers doubtful for this weekend's game, Michigan State's roster is full of talent.
"They have two McDonalds All-Americans out there. All their big kids have these defined rolls they play very well," said Beilein. "It's sad to hear about Dawson, because that's unfortunate, he's such a good player. And, obviously, Payne in his senior year, to go through this (injury) doesn't seem right. It changes matchups but not a great deal. They're going to run the same plays, they're going to pound it at you, they're going to play really good defense. The defensive numbers are staggering, how good they are. We're trying to find weak links to attack; we can't find them. No matter what five players they put on the floor, they're going to be good."
In Payne's absence, Kenny Kaminski has come off the bench and shot 54.8 percent from long range (17-for-31) and averaged 5.2 points. Meanwhile, sophomore Garry Harris leads Michigan State's scoring with 18.3 points per game, and point guard Keith Appling continues to impress with 15.3 points per game and a veteran's knowledge of the game.
"He's so good, number one, in transition and, number two, at shot clock time," said Beilein of Appling. "He's terrific. Of the great point guards we've played against; he's one of the best. He is a four-year player who has had a ton of minutes. He can get to where he wants to get to. We have to do the best we can do to contain him in the fast break, shot clock time and anything that they draw up for him."
On Michigan's side, point guard Derrick Walton Jr. played just three minutes against Iowa after missing practice with a temperature and flu-like symptoms. Beilein reports that Walton is recovering, but his status for Saturday's game is unknown.
"We did a little bit with him yesterday," said Beilein. "Hopefully he can go full go today. But we won't know until practice is over. He said he felt fine today, so I'll know more after today's practice. Hopefully he'll be fine."
No matter which players see the court, the game promises to be a great challenge -- and a great opportunity -- for the Wolverines.
"What an opportunity we have now to go up and play a great team, a great program, (at) a great environment," said Beilein. "I know our kids are charged up to go up and play. We are going to go up and do our best."