Something weird happened this season for both teams. Michigan looked bad during the non-conference part of the season, but finished with the Big Ten title for the second time in three years, including beating Michigan State twice. The Spartans looked like the best team in the nation during the first half of the season, but lost seven times in the final 12 games of the regular season.
So are Michigan, #8 in the nation, that much better than their state rivals who are usually the premier name among the two in College Basketball? Good things are happening with John Beliein over the last three years. Not just the regular season titles and last year making it to the NCAA Tournament final. It’s the talent he’s bringing in, the talent he’s been able to keep and develop, breaking all kind of streaks like what previously was their mission impossible: Winning in Wisconsin.
Michigan State are healthy, pretty much, again. There’s Adreain Payne and Branden Dawson back, while Michigan have been without Mitch McGrady for almost the entire season. How much will this influence the game? It should be, quite a lot. Michigan barely got by Ohio State (72-69) in the semifinals, and there’s a chance that by getting back their talented injured players, the pendulum will swing back the Spartans direction after losing twice to Michigan this season, including 79-70 in the previous game.
Michigan have won the conference tournament only once (1998), but even that win was vacated. Michigan State won in 2012, but in such a deep and tough conference, it’s a rarity to see them lift this trophy, with the one before coming in 2000.
Payne seems to be on fire from the looks of him against Wisconsin, and Gary Harris has a thing about exploding against Michigan, averaging 20.25 points in four career games against the Wolverines. If it comes down to being a shooting contest, Michigan have more tools than possibly anyone in the nation to win the game, but if Michigan State manage to make it about a bit more than jacking up 3’s, the Wovlerines are in trouble.