Michigan's Derrick Walton Jr. could see limited time against Michigan State due to the flu. (Nati Harnik / Associated Press)
Ann Arbor — On paper, tonight’s Michigan-Michigan State game has the aura befitting ESPN’s “GameDay” hoopla.
But on another piece of that paper is the injury report, which takes some of the luster off the matchup as Michigan State could be without two starters while Michigan could see freshman guard Derrick Walton Jr. with a reduced role because of the flu.
For Michigan State, Branden Dawson (broken hand) is out, while Adreian Payne (plantar fasciitis) is considered doubtful.
“It’s really sad to hear about Dawson — he’s such a good player,” Michigan coach John Beilein said Friday. “Obviously Payne, to go through this in his senior year, that doesn’t seem right. “
The losses mean the Spartans will be without two of the best rebounders in the Big Ten (Dawson, 8.7, second; Payne, 7.7, fourth). Coach Tom Izzo likely will use a smaller lineup with Alvin Ellis at guard and 6-foot-5 Denzel Valentine playing a hybrid role on the wing.
“It changes matchups obviously, but not a great deal,” Beilein said. “They’re going to run the same plays; they’re going to pound it at you and play really good defense.”
Beilein said Walton practiced some Thursday, and his status would depend on how he looked in practice later Friday.
Avoiding a slow start
In marquee games, Michigan has had problems with slow starts, falling behind by double digits before making a run in the second half.
It’s a concern for Beilein, who tries to put an emphasis on ensuring that the Wolverines don’t dig a hole too early tonight.
“Last year, the beginning of the game really wasn’t a big issue; it might be the 10- to 12-minute mark to the six-minute mark,” Beilein said. “They just got away from us, then in the second half, it was lights out. You have to make shots early against them.
“We usually have a script we want to play with in the first 10 minutes, sometimes we have to trash it because a team went zone or overloaded one side.”
Mitch McGary (back surgery) hasn’t played in more than a month, but made an appearance on Michigan’s bench Wednesday.
Beilein said McGary isn’t close to returning.
“He checks in a few times a week because there is no official rehab started,” Beilein said. “My biggest concern with him being on the bench is his natural inclination to jump up and down, hug his teammates and do these things.
“There’s still a period here where he’s got to be extremely dormant while this repairs itself.”
... Michigan has won eight straight, while Michigan State has won 11 in a row.