No. 2 Michigan and Michigan State have taken different paths getting to the end of this college basketball regular season.
The Wolverines won 18 of 20 games and put themselves in the national title conversation, while MSU’s streak of 22 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths appeared in jeopardy. But a late push from the Spartans, including four wins in their past five games, has MSU in contention for an at-large bid. Meanwhile, Michigan can secure the outright Big Ten title with a win Thursday night or when the two rivals match up again on Sunday in East Lansing.
Both teams have plenty to play for, but oddsmakers see Michigan as the clear favorite. Michigan opened as a 12.5-point favorite on DraftKings and the line currently sits at -12. MSU’s moneyline is +575, while Michigan’s moneyline odds are at -835.
DraftKings is also offering a betting prop on whether MSU will make the NCAA tournament this season. MSU is currently favored to get in, according to DraftKings, sitting at -152 to make the tournament, while the Spartans are +122 to miss out for the first time in 23 tourneys.
This will be the first matchup between the two rivals since the state launched its mobile Michigan sportsbooks and Michigan online casino gaming platforms on Jan. 22.
MSU defending Hunter Dickinson
The game might be decided by MSU’s ability to defend Michigan’s 7-foot-2 center, Hunter Dickinson. The freshman has established himself as one of the elite bigs in the country, averaging 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game while converting on 60% of his shot attempts for the season. Dickinson lives for the left hook in the post over his right shoulder, and teams have struggled to defend his go-to move all throughout the season.
That doesn’t bode well for MSU. One of the Spartans’ weaknesses is defending inside players. Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 34 against MSU in the first matchup between the two teams, while Iowa’s Luka Garza put up 27 points and 12 rebounds in an 84-78 win over MSU back on Feb. 2. Then there’s Purdue big man Tervion Williams, who had 26 points on Jan. 8 before recording 28 points against MSU on Feb. 16 — both ending in wins for the Boilermakers. So yes, post defense has been a bit of an issue for the Spartans.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. MSU has shown some capability to defend the inside. The Spartans held Jackson-Davis to just nine points and 1 of 5 shooting in Tuesday’s rematch and didn’t let Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn go off, limiting him to 13 points in MSU’s 81-72 win on Feb. 23.
If MSU can limit Dickinson without sending an extra defender, the Spartans may have a chance to pull off the upset. Otherwise, it could get ugly.
Henry must be great for MSU
Michigan (18-2, 13-2 Big Ten) has one of the elite offenses in the country, ranking in sixth in KenPom for adjusted offense at 119.7. We’ve already discussed Dickinson, but it’s also the perimeter core that makes the Wolverines so difficult to defend. Mike Smith (49%), Isaiah Livers (45%), Chaundee Brown (39%), Franz Wagner (37%) and Eli Brooks (36%) give the team five players in its rotation who shoot above 35% from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Livers and Wagner are NBA-level talents who can elevate over smaller defenders in the post, on drives to the basket or with pull-up jumpers. The Wolverines can score from anywhere.
MSU (14-10, 8-10) doesn’t have the offensive talent or depth like Michigan. What has turned the Spartans’ season around is when Aaron Henry goes off. During MSU’s 4-1 stretch, in the four wins, he’s scored 27, 20, 18 and 22 points. He’s an OK 3-point shooter at 30%, but at 6-6 with his athleticism, is the team’s best attacker in the paint and can also use his size to post up smaller defender.
In the one loss to Maryland, Henry was just 4 of 16 from the field and finished with 11 points. The Spartans need Henry’s offense and ability to create for others to stand any chance against the Wolverines.