Michigan looks like a much more dangerous team than when it was originally scheduled to face in-state rival Michigan State.
The showdown was delayed by three weeks due to COVID-19 issues within the Wolverines program. That postponement of the game in Ann Arbor has yet to be rescheduled, however the teams will play on the Spartans’ home floor in East Lansing on Saturday afternoon.
Not only were the Wolverines dealing with virus issues earlier this month, they also were struggling on the court. Michigan had lost three of its last four games prior to the Jan. 8 postponement.
The Wolverines are now a much healthier and confident group after winning the last three games. They collected convincing victories over Maryland and Indiana before they eked out a 72-70 home win over Northwestern on Wednesday.
Coach Juwan Howard said his team has improved defensively during the resurgence.
“Getting stops when we have to and also staying locked in on what is asked,” Howard said. “Whether it’s defensively, what coverage we’re in, whether you’re in man coverage, you’re switching the ball screen or you’re switching everything, or whether it’s getting a defensive box out, so you get a defensive rebound. Those are all the little things that do not show up in a box score, but it matters and results to helping you win.”
The Wolverines (10-7, 4-3 Big Ten) trailed the Wildcats 62-55 with 5:09 remaining. Freshman Caleb Houstan scored a team-high 18 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:38 remaining that gave Michigan the lead for good.
Houstan is averaging 17.7 points during the streak after scoring in single digits four of his previous five games.
“Very proud of how our team, when we were down seven, how we were being together and fought really hard to figure out a way how to dig deep and get a victory,” Howard said. “Each possession mattered to this group.”
No. 10 Michigan State (15-4, 6-2) held the top spot in the conference until it dropped a 56-55 decision at Illinois on Tuesday. The Spartans trailed by 14 points at halftime but nearly forced overtime. Malik Hall missed one of two free throws with two-tenths of a second remaining in regulation.
“Very disappointing the way we played,” coach Tom Izzo said. “Winning and losing right now, for me, I’m way beyond that. I don’t worry about winning and losing as much as how we played. So I’m not real happy with the way we played. And we’ll just keep working at it.”
The Spartans won their first five conference games before dropping a 64-62 decision to visiting Northwestern on Jan. 15. The loss to the Fighting Illini came after a 12-point victory over No. 8 Wisconsin on Jan. 21.
Turnovers have been a season-long concern for Izzo. Illinois scored 15 points in the first half off nine Spartans turnovers.
“It’s kind of the same old, same old,” Izzo said. “We get off to a poor start, we turned the ball over nine times in the first half and two in the second half. We’ve been consistently inconsistent. And every time I think we’re taking a step forward, a couple guys take two steps back.”
The Spartans and Wolverines met twice in a span of four days last season. Michigan posted a 69-50 win in the first matchup in Ann Arbor on March 4 before Michigan State responded with a 70-64 triumph in East Lansing.
–Field Level Media