Today’s Michigan-Michigan State showdown has so much more on the line than national rankings and Big Ten standings.
No. 9 MSU is 17-5, 6-3 in the Big Ten and No. 23 Michigan is 17-6, 7-3.
Sure, the winner will stay close to first-place Ohio State and probably be the one that challenges for the conference title, while the loser more than likely will tussle with the likes of Wisconsin and Indiana for third or fourth place.
This is finally for what so many people have been anxious to call it — the rivalry.
“It’s just back to the way it should be. It’s gotten really competitive, the games are close and thankfully we’ve come out on the right side the last couple of times,” U-M senior Zack Novak said.
Now, let’s make a clear distinction between the rivalry and the achievements of both. In the big scheme of things, Michigan has done nothing in the past 15 years, at least. The Spartans have been the kings of basketball in this state, with six Final Four appearances since Tom Izzo’s arrival in East Lansing. MSU has won more Big Ten titles than U-M has NCAA appearances in that span.
But Michigan now appears as a blip on the Spartans’ radar. If the Wolverines can win their fourth straight in the rivalry, it officially becomes` a rivalry again. MSU has dominated Michigan for as long as anybody in either program can remember, but a U-M win today starts to eat away at that mastery. It would mean that Draymond Green, the Spartans’ leader, would have a losing record (3-4) against the Wolverines — as the teams only played once in 2009 — and would have lost the last four.
It would be the first four-game streak for U-M since 1996-98 and would propel the Wolverines into the conference elite — if only just for one season. Beilein said that’s just one step for his team to start achieving its goals.
Novak said the Wolverines have ended their in-game huddles all season with “Big Ten champs” instead of the “NCAA Tournament” chant they had last season.
“I think our whole team established that goal early on and it’s the next step to take as a program,” Novak said.
Beilein said it’s about raising the standards for the program.
“Once we had achieved the other goal (NCAA), it didn’t seem like that should be the only goal and we could set the bar a little higher and still accomplish the goal of every basketball team in the country,” Beilein said. “Whether they win their league is important, but to get to the NCAA and have success in the NCAA is what people remember most.”
This has the feel of a year that the teams will meet again in the Big Ten Tournament, which would mean more than any regular-season, because the teams never have met in the tournament. Part of the reason is that U-M had the lower seed and generally wasn’t around for the semifinals and championship games. That could change this year with a win in East Lansing.
Prediction: Michigan 62, MSU 60