Top-10 rivals square off in Big Ten brawl
East Lansing, MI (Sports Network) - First place in the Big Ten Conference is up for grabs on Tuesday night, as the eighth-ranked Michigan State Spartans welcome the fourth-ranked Michigan Wolverines to the Breslin Center.
After a 20-1 start to the season, Michigan was able to rise all the way to No. 1 in the AP poll, but like so many other top-ranked teams this season, it fell victim of that distinction and lost at Indiana on Feb. 2, 81-73. After bouncing back with a 76-74 win at home over Ohio State on Feb. 5, the Wolverines lost in devastating fashion at Wisconsin this past Saturday, 65-62, in overtime.
While other Big Ten teams have stumbled in recent weeks, Michigan State has been steady as a rock, winning nine of its last 10, the most recent of which being a 78-65 decision against Purdue on Saturday. The Spartans are now 20-4 overall, sit atop the league standings at 9-2, and have yet to lose in 14 home games.
Michigan State won the last meeting in the series with Michigan, 64-54, at home on Feb. 5, 2012, to snap a three-game losing streak in the series. The Wolverines still have a 94-75 advantage over the Spartans all-time.
Michigan appeared to be on its way to an impressive road victory over the weekend, as it was up by three in the waning seconds before Wisconsin's Ben Brust nailed a miraculous half-court shot to tie the game and force overtime. That was all the energy the Badgers would need, as they would go on to hand the Wolverines just their third loss of the season. Michigan's Trey Burke finished with 19 points, five rebounds and four assists, but he struggled from the field, shooting just 8-of-21. Tim Hardaway, Jr. poured in 18 points, while Mitch McGary chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds for the Wolverines, who shot less than 40 percent from the field. On the season, Michigan is a much more potent offensive squad than it as shown recently, as it makes nearly 50 percent of its field goal attempts for 77.0 ppg. Burke is in the midst of an All-America-worthy season, netting 18.2 ppg on 48.1 percent from the field while dishing out 170 assists (7.1 pg) against only 45 turnovers. Backcourt mates Hardaway, Jr. (16.0 ppg) and Nik Stauskas (12.1 ppg) have combined for 108 3-pointers, while forward Glenn Robinson III contributes 11.3 ppg and 5.5 rpg.
Michigan State opened up an eight-point advantage at Purdue on Saturday, and it would never relinquish that lead as it shot nearly 50 percent (.491) from the field en route to a 13-point victory. Branden Dawson was nearly perfect on the night, shooting 7-of-9 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the foul line for 20 points. Derrick Nix and Keith Appling poured in 17 points apiece, and Adreian Payne tacked on 12 points and six rebounds. Appling is the team's catalyst with 14.1 ppg and 4.1 apg, and Gary Harris joins him in the backcourt and brings 12.7 ppg to the table while shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range. The Spartans are one of the most physical teams in the Big Ten, as Dawson (10.9 ppg, 6.5 rpg), Payne (9.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg) and Nix (9.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) aren't afraid to get dirty down low. As a team, MSU nets just shy of 70 ppg while holding its opponents to only 59.2 ppg.