When people talk about rivalry games, the cliche is that records and everything else go out the window. Statistics do the same thing sometimes, too. Michigan got five rebounds in the second half of its 60-59 win over No. 9 Michigan State and still managed to get the win.
Even on the last couple of possessions, MSU had multiple opportunities to take the game on offensive rebounds, but Michigan played stellar defense in preventing the Spartans from pulling ahead — though Draymond Green had a pretty good look at his jumper in the final seconds. One interesting quote from Michigan coach John Beilein was that he wanted his best five on the floor in the starting lineup — who played the best defense and “knew what we were doing” on the floor.
I alluded to the possibility Monday and Tuesday that Beilein would start Stu Douglass instead of Evan Smotrycz (and I turned out to be right, for once), but Smotrycz’s role in the game (five points in 10 minutes) seemed to be about right. He hasn’t regained his shooting touch and turns out to be somewhat of a liability when he’s not plugged into the game. Douglass, like he did last year at MSU, hit the winning shot and has been a valuable asset as Hardaway and Smotrycz have struggled offensively.
After his press conference, Beilein said he wasn’t sure whether he would keep Douglass in the lineup, but it depended on how they matched up against Arkansas. Michigan’s zone defenses sure looked a lot better with Douglass in — well, they almost have to play zone against bigger lineups with him in there — and Zack Novak was back to his old role of playing against 6-foot-8 players in the post.
On the talk of the U-M/MSU rivalry closing the gap, let’s be realistic here. The gap is only beginning to close — and that’s only because it was so big to begin with. Sure, Michigan has won three straight, but MSU had a stretch of 12 out of 13. That’s dominance. Three straight is just a minor blip on the screen in what MSU has been able to do on the national stage. As far as head-to-head meetings, U-M is starting to make a difference, with emphasis on the word starting. If the Wolverines win two or three of the next four, then it might begin to mean something.
The win keeps Michigan near the top of the Big Ten standings and is win No. 15. None of the Wolverines would bite on this win being any more than a good win. Douglass and Novak talked about it being another step on the road to getting a good NCAA Tournament seed and what it meant for the Big Ten standings. That’s their focus right now, and rightfully so.