No. 14 Michigan State looks to stay alone atop the Big Ten standings when it hosts No. 12 Michigan on Sunday. The Spartans are the lone undefeated team in conference play, sitting at 3-0 against Big Ten foes and 11-3 overall. Michigan is 1-1 in the Big Ten and 10-3 overall.
The Spartans have won six straight contests, including an easy victory at home against Illinois on Thursday. The Wolverines surprised many with a 7-0 start to the season, including wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga, but then dropped three of four, including a road loss to Illinois and an overtime setback to Oregon. Michigan does come into this game on a two-game winning streak, albeit against Presbyterian and UMass-Lowell.
The Spartans are 10-point favorites at home for this game. The moneyline has Michigan +380 and Michigan State -510, with the over/under set at 143.
Needing A Boost
Michigan probably wasn’t as good as its No. 4 ranking earlier this season, but first-year coach Juwan Howard’s team is also better than its non-ranking in the preseason. Senior guard Zavier Simpson runs the show for Howard, dishing out a Big Ten-best 8.9 assists per game to go along with a career-best 11.2 points per game. The matchup between him and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston will be a great one, with Simpson a very good defender as well.
A big question for Michigan is the availability of Isaiah Livers, who averages 13.6 points and shoots 50 percent from three-point range but was hurt early in the win over Presbyterian. Howard says he’s unsure when the junior forward will be available, but if there’s any game he wants to play, it’s against the Wolverines’ in-state rival. Center Jon Teske is another big key for Michigan, as the 7-1 center is a space-eater in the middle who is having a big season with 14.4 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game.
Starting To Roll
Michigan State had a rough beginning to the season, on and off the court, with losses to Kentucky, Virginia Tech and Duke but also the passing of Winston’s younger brother due to an apparent suicide. Winston has persevered, though, only missing a game last weekend due to injury, and he leads the Spartans with 17.8 points, 6.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game. He’s also the spark plug for coach Tom Izzo, directing a lethal Michigan State fast break.
Junior forward Xavier Tillman is coming off possibly his best game as a Spartan, going for 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four blocks against Illinois, all while being sick. Forward Aaron Henry is starting to live up to some of his expectations as well, averaging 10.5 points and providing another ball-handler and distributer to help Winston. The Spartans have scoring potential throughout their lineup, and they like to share the ball, leading the Big Ten with 20 assists per game.
This rivalry has been really good over the past few years, with both teams being national contenders. The Spartans swept the season series a year ago, winning all three meetings, including the Big Ten Tournament title game. Izzo’s team is starting to look like the squad that earned all the preseason No. 1 rankings, and that could be trouble for the Wolverines. Look for the Spartans to pull away from a close game late and cover the large spread at home. I’m taking Michigan State -10.