Spartans Take on Wolverines in Weekend Rivalry

The last two undefeated teams standing in the Big Ten happen to be two of the biggest rivals.

The No. 3 Spartans (18-1, 6-0) are preparing to face off against the No. 21 Michigan Wolverines (14-4, 6-0) at the Breslin tonight.

Michigan State goes into the game winning their past eleven games in a row and having an almost perfect record of 9-1 on their home court.

Last season, the Spartans won the first matchup against the Wolverines, 75-52. The story changed the second time around when Michigan beat Michigan State in a heart breaker, 58-57.

Gary Harris and Adreian Payne were the top two scorers against Michigan last season. They scored a combined total of 54 points against the Wolverines in two games.

In the Spartans’ last game they defeated Indiana 71-66. The top performer was Gary Harris.  Harris had 24 points (20 in the second half), five steals, two rebounds, one assist and one block. Branden Dawson also added 13 points and nine boards.

Michigan State is currently averaging 79.9 points per game.

The Spartans have been suffering from many injuries this season, forcing players deeper on the bench to step up. Redshirt freshman Kenny Kaminski has taken full advantage of his extra playing time and is shooting 54.8 percent from three point range.

Senior leader, and one of the leading scorers against Michigan, Adreian Payne is still questionable, yet unlikely to play, for the upcoming game on Saturday. Branden Dawson is also suffering from a recent broken hand injury and is expected to be out for up to five weeks.

The Wolverines enter this game winning their last eight games, including wins against No. 9 Wisconsin and No. 10 Iowa.

As a team, Michigan is shooting 49 percent from field goal range, 38 percent from the three point line and 74 percent from the line.

Michigan lost key players Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the 2013 NBA Draft last year, forcing the Wolverines to designate new leaders on the team.  Burke was the leading scorer against the Spartans last season with a total of 39 points in two games.

This season, sophomore Nik Stauskas has stepped up to be the new leader the Wolverines have been looking for since Burke’s and Hardaway’s departures.

Stauskas is the current leading scorer (18.5) in the conference in front of Gary Harris (18.3).  Stauskas alone is shooting 54 percent on field goal attempts, 52 percent from behind the arc and 82 percent from the free throw line.

In order for the Spartans to win this game, despite all of their injuries, it will be important to close out Nik Stauskas. Stauskas is lethal from the three-point line and will be looking to light up the Breslin Center. Without Dawson and Payne available the Spartans will be lacking a big man’s presence, meaning it will be crucial that other players such as Matt Costello, Alex Gauna and Kaminski to step up and accept the challenge against their biggest rival.

Tip-off is set at 7 p.m. at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center and will be televised on ESPN.

Hayleigh Geurink is a multimedia journalist for Impact Sports.

Photo: David Defever/Impact Sports