Michigan State Basketball: Previewing the matchups at No. 2 Michigan

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 20: Aaron Henry #0 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates during the 78-71 win over the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on February 20, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA - FEBRUARY 20: Aaron Henry #0 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates during the 78-71 win over the Indiana Hoosiers at Assembly Hall on February 20, 2021 in Bloomington, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Michigan State basketball is getting ready to face off against No. 2 Michigan at Crisler Center. Here are the matchup previews for the big game.

Flashback to mid-February. Michigan State had fallen to Purdue for a second time. The Spartans owned a 4-9 record in conference play and were a single game above .500 with a lackluster 10-9 overall mark. They’d been left for dead by the Boilermakers. At that moment, reality set in that their 22-year NCAA tournament appearance streak was in serious jeopardy of coming to an end.

Remarkably, since then, Michigan State rallied to win four out of their next five games, including a pair of monumental victories against two top-five nationally ranked Big Ten opponents, Illinois and Ohio State.

They have a golden opportunity in front of them to further solidify themselves as a worthy qualifier in the field of 68 by potentially securing at least one win against their bitter rivals. They’ll look to keep the momentum rolling as they are preparing to face the University of Michigan on Thursday evening (in Ann Arbor) and Sunday afternoon (back at the Breslin Center).

Here’s how they matchup and which team holds the advantage at each position.

  • Julius Marble vs. Hunter Dickinson: Dickinson clearly is the most dangerous player of the two here as he has emerged as one of the best freshman in not only the Big Ten but all of college basketball. He scores 14.4 points and grabs nearly 8 rebounds per contest. Julius Marble has struggled defending bigs all year, therefore, you’ll see Coach Izzo throw several different bodies at Dickinson, who is a towering presence in paint at 7-foot-1.
  • Malik Hall vs. Isaiah Livers: Again, this is a position where Michigan without a doubt is superior. The frontcourt of the Wolverines is their bread and butter. Livers is in the midst of an outstanding senior season, averaging 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists per game (while possessing an impressive 45 percent accuracy rate from long distance). Michigan State may try throwing Thomas Kithier at the Kalamazoo native if Hall can’t handle the assignment.
  • Aaron Henry vs. Franz Wagner: The Wagner brothers have been a thorn in the side of the Spartans for years. Franz’s older sibling Moe led Michigan to consecutive Big Ten tournament championships a few years ago. The slight edge goes to Henry due to him being more of a threat passing and scoring the ball. Henry has transformed himself into an ambidextrous weapon much like Spartan great Drew Neitzel was with his skills in using either hand equally well after darting into the lane with intentions to score. The Spartans will have their hands full trying to contain the trio of Dickinson, Livers, and Wagner.
  • Joshua Langford vs. Eli Brooks: Langford is a more efficient scorer and rebounder than Brooks. Langford has worked tirelessly to become Aaron Henry’s reliable sidekick. If Langford can hit a few threes and get to his sweet spot (mid-range) often for clean looks, that would significantly improve Michigan State’s chances of pulling off an upset or two.
  • Mike Smith vs. A.J. Hoggard: This one is not close. The transfer Smith has been extremely steady in directing the offense for an 18-2 Michigan club that has risen all the way up the ranks to the second best team in college hoops. Hoggard has had his bright moments but inconsistency has been his Achilles heel.
  • The battle of the benches: Gabe Brown has been electric as of late and if Joey Hauser can provide some offensive fireworks, the odds may just swing into Michigan State’s favor. There have been games where U of M has only played eight. Guard Chaundree Brown and forwards Austin Davis and Brandon Johns Jr. are their main reserves. Marcus Bingham Jr. has been stellar in the past couple of weeks for the Spartans. Michigan State will try to use his length (and Mady Sissoko’s in short spurts) to disrupt Dickinson and Livers on the interior. The X-factor could be Rocket Watts as he’s had a handful of ballgames where he’s been very effective. Michigan State needs him to play lights-out.

Throw the records out the window when these two teams lace up their sneaks against one another. Expect a good ol’ fashioned street fight with the toughest team coming out on top.

Next. 3 bold predictions for Michigan State at No. 2 Michigan. dark