For Michigan, they are hoping that the third time is a charm. On Sunday, the Michigan Wolverines (28-5) will match up with the Michigan State Spartans (27-6) for the third time in three weeks. The first two did not go the way of the Wolverines with the Spartans winning the first matchup 77-70 and the second matchup 76-63, but if the Wolverines can pull out one win, they would likely want it to be in the Big Ten Championship. The two will matchup at the United Center on Sunday with tipoff scheduled for 3:30 pm ET.
To get to the championship game, the Michigan Wolverines had to go through both Iowa and Minnesota. They beat Iowa 74-53 on Friday and then obliterated Minnesota 76-49 on Saturday. Michigan will need that hardnosed defense to be able to get the Spartans’ offense in check. For Michigan State, it was victories over Ohio State (77-70) and No. 19 Wisconsin (67-55) that have put them into the championship game.
In the matchup, the Michigan State Spartans come in as 1-point favorites playing on the neutral court. The over/under for this game is set at 131.5 points.
By The Numbers
Defensively, Michigan has been one of the best teams in the nation. They currently rank 3rd overall allowing just 58.8 points to opponents. For the Michigan State Spartans, they rank 46th overall, allowing 65.9 points per game. Michigan State is especially tough on opposing shooters, allowing opponents to shoot just 37.6% from the field (4th overall) while the Wolverines come in at 21st overall (40.1%).
Offensively, it is all Spartans. They rank 37th in the nation averaging 79.7 points per game. Not only does Michigan State shoot it well (48.9% which ranks 14th), they also distribute the ball phenomenally (19.1 assists per game which ranks 3rd). Michigan, on the other hand, falls down the rankings to 238th in the country averaging 70.4 points per game.
Michigan Hopes Defense Can Cool Off Winston
Michigan certainly has one of the best defenses in the country, but they have struggled to show that dominance against the Spartans. In particular, they have had a lot of trouble stopping Cassius Winston, who is averaging 25 points per game against them. If they hope to take the Big Ten title, they are going to have to get their defense going in overdrive.
Leading the way on the offensive side for the Wolverines is forward Ignas Brazdeikis. On the season, Brazdeikis is averaging 15 points on 46.4% shooting. He is also shooting 41.7% from behind the arc and chips in 5.2 rebounds per game.
Aside from Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Charles Matthews are the two other leading scorers for Michigan. Poole is averaging 12.9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.1 steals while Matthews is averaging 12.5 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.1 steals per game.
Spartans Hope To Stay Hot Going Into NCAA Tournament
As previously mentioned, Cassius Winston has been playing fantastically for coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans, and he has upped his game when squaring off with Michigan. On the season, Winston is averaging 18.9 points on 47.2% shooting and 4.14% shooting from behind the arc. He also chips in 3.2 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 1 steal per game.
The next leading scorer for the Spartans has been Nick Ward, but he is coming back from a hand injury. On the season he is averaging 14.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game. Still, in the game against Wisconsin, he only played 11 minutes, although that was in part due to foul trouble. If Ward can put up more minutes, it would be huge for the Spartans.
With Ward on the mend and guard Joshua Langford out, the Spartans have been relying on Matt McQuaid, Xavier Tillman, and Kenny Goins to pick up the slack and they certainly have not disappointed. On the season, McQuaid is averaging 9.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 2.4 assists while Xavier Tillman is averaging 9.2 points, 7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1 steal and 1.7 blocks and Kenny Goins is averaging 8.3 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks per game.
Michigan State Gets The Sweep In The Season Series
It is immensely hard to beat a team three times, particularly in the span of three weeks, but that is exactly what I anticipate on Sunday. While Michigan has gotten a lot of the accolades for the defensive prowess, Michigan State has quietly been very solid on that end of the floor. With that in mind, I like the Spartans chances of putting up points against a vaunted defense much better than the ability of the Wolverines. I wouldn’t be shocked if it is close through the first half while the two teams feel each other out, but I ultimately expect that Spartans to pull away. For my money, I am taking Michigan State despite laying the 1 point.