Fantasy College Basketball Game of the Week: Michigan at Michigan State
One of my pet peeves (and it seems like there are many) when it comes to college basketball writing is an overemphasis on teams of the past and players "who have been lost." Otto Porter is no more relevant to this year's Georgetown Hoya team than Patrick Ewing. I understand that journalists are trying to create a link to last year's team, but to me, when a player's leaves school, he is gone and there is little reason to talk about him again. I think injured players are worth talking about and Saturday's intrastate rivalry game between Michigan and Michigan State and had plenty of wounded players on the sidelines worth mentioning. Of course, Mitch McGary, Adreian Payne, and Branden Dawson weren't playing, but it was still a worthy game to watch in what might be the best conference in college basketball once again.
As it stands, the Big 10 is second in conference RPI behind the Big 12. According to ESPN's Bracketology, the Big 12 also trumps the Big 10 in prospective tournament bids. The Big 12 has currently placed seven teams in the tournament, while the Big 10 (and Pac 12 and ACC) place six teams. While the Big 12 might have better overall depth than the Big 10, I think the Big 10 has more teams that could make a run in the tournament, including the two I watched this morning. Despite recent troubles, I wouldn't sleep on Ohio State and Wisconsin. Plus, Iowa looks like a very tough squad this year.
The Wolverines took an early lead on precise 3-point shooting, but the Spartans were able to claw their way back and held the lead for the majority of the game. Nik Stauskas has been heaped with plenty of praise this season, and he hit some really tough perimeter jumpers against the Spartan defenders. The 6-6 sophomore is garnering some pro buzz and it is not hard to see why. He has taken a major step forward and is leading the team with 18.5 points. This was likely the role that Glenn Robinson Jr. was supposed to take, but it just hasn't happened for the Little Big Dog. Robinson does have athleticism, but he doesn't have his Pop's killer jumper (he was automatic on mid-range jumpers as long as he didn't think about it or dribble). Robinson also doesn't have a definable skill that would help teams at the next level; Stauskas does. Freshman Derrick Walton Jr. had his best scoring game of the season with 19 points and made his free throws down the stretch to preserve the late lead.
For Michigan State, I wouldn't say the loss was particularly harmful to their overall profile. They were playing without their top two rebounders and the Wolverines hit 57.9 percent (11-of-19) on 3-pointers. Some people might blame poor perimeter defense for the sweet three percentage (and would say the same about Villanova against Creighton on Monday), but I think it is just one of those things. Sometimes a team, particularly teams like Michigan and Creighton, is going to hit a lot of 3-pointers and there isn't all that much a defending team can do about it. It's not as if the Wolverines were doing much around the basket.
Gary Harris was the standout performer for Michigan State. He collected 27 points and added five boards and three steals. While Payne and Dawson are out, he will continue to have to play well for the Spartans to have a chance. Harris is not the sturdiest of players himself and his somewhat slight build may lead to more injuries, which Michigan State likely can not afford. I also really liked the way that Denzel Valentine played. He is a forward with a flare for passing. I don't think there is any question that the Spartans are the best team in the conference (and one of the few that can stand up to Arizona on paper) when healthy. However, it is questionable whether the current Spartan squad can go to Iowa on Tuesday and get a win.