Michigan State has bragging rights over Michigan on the football field right now, and most Spartan fans thought that those rights would only increase once basketball season started.
In the famous words of Lee Corso, "Not so fast."
The Spartans have stumbled out of the gate and are sitting at 0-2 in the Big Ten after losses to Northwestern and Wisconsin, while Michigan is 2-0 after a win over Penn State and one over Nebraska on Christmas Day. Michigan is also the last unbeaten team in the conference at 7-0 overall.
It's just another very 2020 scenario. Obviously it's very, very early, but this is not the start Spartans fans envisioned for their team and Michigan fans are probably slightly surprised as well. So far, Michigan has won as the favorite, but I'm not sure people would've picked the Wolverines to be the last undefeated team in the league.
One reason for that is because the Big Ten conference is a bear. There are some really good teams in the conference and winning is going to be tough every night out. Counting Michigan, there are seven Big Ten teams inside the AP Top 25, including Iowa and Wisconsin, who are both in the top ten.
Everyone is going to take some lumps, and it's hard to pick a potential winner right now, but it's fun to talk about who might make it through. Injuries will of course factor in, but if you had to choose between Michigan and Michigan State right now, who would you say will finish higher?
Michigan is playing pretty well. Juwan Howard is getting great performances from leaders like Isaiah Livers and Franz Wagner, as well as near-dominant outings from freshman Hunter Dickinson. Transfers Chaundee Brown and Mike Smith have also carved out and perfected their roles already. Throw in scrappy, energetic play from Brandon Johns Jr., Eli Brooks and freshman Terrance Williams, and you have a 7-0 team. The Wolverines are deep, athletic, long and can shoot it from the outside. If the defense can play a little more consistently, this team has the making to compete for a Big Ten title.
Michigan State has already had some ups and downs. An early-season win against Duke certainly bolstered the resumé, but a recent 14-point loss at Northwestern was definitely unexpected, even though the Wildcats are 3-0 in the Big Ten and playing inspired basketball. Marquette transfer Joey Hauser is leading the Spartans in scoring, which is a nice development for them, while veterans Gabe Brown and Joshua Langford are struggling to find consistency. There's been some controversy surrounding Tom Izzo's decision to start Thomas Kithier, who is averaging just 3.3 points per game, but the MSU head man says he's committed to the junior.
Regardless of what's happening now, the battles between U-M and MSU are going to be heated on Feb. 6 in Ann Arbor, and in East Lansing to close out the regular season on March 7.
If I had to choose who will be above who when that March 7 finale rolls around, I'd have to pick Michigan. They're playing better right now, should improve more with more new pieces and youth still getting adapted and I don't think the Spartans have anyone who can check Dickinson. It's going to be a lot of fun watching it all play out, but as December winds down, I'm going with the maize and blue.