Written by Josh Price
In recent years the interstate rivalry between Michigan State and Michigan has been one that has been dominated by the Spartans. In the past 14 meetings between the two squads the Wolverines had only one once. Coming off a 30 point shellacking of Iowa and being ranked number 11 in the country, it seemed like Wednesday nightâ€™s game was one that should be won by the Spartans. Unfortunately Michigan State head Coach Tom Izzo and his boys didnâ€™t get the memo.
After an encouraging first half in which Michigan State lead by as many as 13, the team went straight downhill. Michigan rallied early in the second half, and had the Spartans looking up at them for the rest of the game as they won 72-67.
One thing that was evident was the questionable calls by the officials throughout the game. Iâ€™m not saying that the refs won the game for Michigan, but the statistics speak for themselves. The Spartans did have 10 attempts from the line for the night. That paled in comparison though to the 34 for that the Wolverines had. Michigan State also shot 50 percent from the field, with Michigan only at 42 percent. One would expect that type of difference to create an advantage.
While the discrepancy in calls did make it difficult for Michigan State (and Izzo did admit after the game that it altered their game plan), the game was actually lost for five different reasons.
First, the defense that was played on Wednesday night was some of the worst by the Spartans all year. Michigan point guard Daniel Horton was able to penetrate against any of the multiple defenders that Izzo threw at him, and lit up Michigan State for 23 points. Graham Brown and Chris Hunter, both not known for their scoring, each doubled their season averages with 10 and 13 points respectively. Ron Coleman was also a surprise contributor with 9 points as a replacement for Lester Abram
Second, Michigan State was overmatched on the glass. Hunter and Brown combined for 12 rebounds. Where this hurt the Spartans the most was that six of those were on the offensive end. Izzoâ€™s big men were severely outmatched and were killed on second chance points.
Third, sophomore guard Drew Neitzel led the team in rebounding, and was second in scoring. The more production that the Spartans get out of Neitzel the better and itâ€™s great to see him scoring in double digits. But it is only beneficial if the big three (Davis, Brown, and Ager) are still producing more than he is. If they are shut down, there is no chance of victory.
Fourth, senior center Paul Davis was almost completely absent from the game. He finished the night with only 10 points and five rebounds. If Michigan State is going to be successful this year it begins and ends with their big man. There is not enough depth in big men on this team scoring wise to carry the load. Davis was also in foul trouble throughout. He picked up his fourth foul with 10:51 left in the game, which limited his playing time.
Fifth, the confidence and chemistry that were present in the win over Iowa were nowhere to be seen. No one was making the extra pass, and there was no resemblance of an inside-out offensive scheme. The team looked tentative, on their heals, and the fast break game was eliminated. Senior forward Maurice Ager did finish the game with 18 points, but his game was altered. He wasnâ€™t able to catch and shoot off of screens, and any shots created off the dribble were forced.
Overall it was a sad day for all Michigan State fans. No matter what the foul situation was, the Spartans did not deserve to win this game. The chants of, â€œJust like football!â€ from the Michigan student section hit all too close to the heart. But look at it this way. If Wednesday nightâ€™s loss is making your stomach turn and you canâ€™t sleep at night, at least the University of Michigan got fined $5,000 for storming the court.