The 3 unexpected ways Michigan State basketball beat Michigan and what it means

Michigan State v Michigan
Michigan State v Michigan / Luke Hales/GettyImages
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I had every intention of writing a preview of the big Michigan vs. Michigan State basketball showdown filled with bold takes, predictions, and exact numbers the Spartans needed to hit in order to win at the Crisler Arena for the first time since 2019.

While I felt bad that I had not put in any work prior to this game, I am now glad I didn't because I would have went on a tangent about how this game will be about rebounding and making 3-point shots.

In those four straight losses from 2020-2023, Michigan out-rebounded the Spartans in every contest, and MSU shot below their season average from 3-point range, including a wild 0-for-9 showing in 2021. Looking at Saturday night's box score, it could have easily indicated a Wolverine win, with the bad guys out rebounding the Spartans once again, 35-30, on top of Michigan State shooting a paltry 14.3% beyond the arc.

So let's take a deeper look into how Michigan State was able to pull this one off.

1-2. Turnovers and timely defense

This one is the easiest answer. Anytime your opponent turns the ball over 22 times, it makes everything so much easier. No points and no change for an offensive rebound while more than likely resulting in transition points for the Spartans, something at which Tom Izzo teams are elite. It seemed like there was a stretch of five or six straight possessions where the Wolverines just handed the ball to the Spartans.

No tough defense, no athletic super power, just bad passes, or being extra careless with the basketball. In fact, Michigan shot better from the field (45.3%-42.9%) and was +15 points when it came to 3-pointers (UM making seven while Spartans made just two).

The issue? Michigan had 10 fewer shot attempts than MSU. Most teams average a little over a point per possession and if Michigan commits just their season average of about 12 turnovers a game, those 10 extra possessions turn into 10 points, exactly the difference in the game.

Obviously, rebounding has been a huge issue for the Spartans this season. But when it mattered most (the last seven minutes of the game), they didn't give up a single offensive rebound to the Wolverines. MSU is giving up roughly 10 offensive rebounds to opponents and while it feels like every team gets at least 10 in the first half against the Spartans, Tom Izzo's squad kept Juwan Howard's crew to just six offensive rebounds. Again, if Michigan grabs four more offensive rebounds, it's a much closer game in the end.