Nik Stauskas regrets -- sort of -- blowing kisses to the Breslin Center crowd when Michigan beat Michigan State on Jan. 25. (Leon Halip / Getty Images)
Ann Arbor — Throughout the years of the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, there have been many recognizable names, faces and personalities to go with some classic games.
Tim McCormick, Glen Rice and Antoine Joubert, and Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and Steve Smith in the 1970s and 1980s. Chris Webber and Jalen Rose, and Shawn Respert and Mateen Cleaves in the 1990s. Kalin Lucas and LaVell Blanchard in the 2000s.
All were players from the state of Michigan, who starred for their teams and stoked the in-state rivalry.
Sunday’s matchup between No. 13 MSU and No. 20 Michigan at the Crisler Center has the importance of giving the winner sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with two weeks to go, but lacks local star power.
The Spartans’ best two players, senior Adreian Payne and sophomore Gary Harris, are from Ohio and Indiana, respectively. U-M’s top two players, Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, are from Ontario and Indiana.
In fact, only seven total players — four are starters — from the teams’ main playing rotations hail from Michigan: the Wolverines’ Derrick Walton Jr., Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford, and MSU’s Keith Appling, Matt Costello, Alex Gauna and Denzel Valentine.
Even without the local flavor, though, there’s still plenty of dislike to go around. After Michigan’s 80-75 win at Breslin Center on Jan. 25, Stauskas blew kisses to the Spartans fans, as the Wolverines won for the fifth time in the last seven meetings.
“We were just excited to get a win there. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that, but it’s all right,” Stauskas said Friday.
“I’ve gotten into it. Obviously, there’s a lot of history that goes behind us here, but it definitely stays on. It’s easy to say we don’t like each other very much.”
There are as many players in the playing rotations from Indiana as there are from Michigan, including Harris and former high school teammate Zak Irvin, along with Robinson. Branden Dawson and Mitch McGary both are injured and likely won’t play.
That familiarity still breeds contempt, though, as players set friendships aside for the big rivalry game.
“I’m not sure. I know a lot of guys from Indiana like Gary and Zak knew each other coming in so I don’t think they hate each other,” Stauskas said. “But when you put each other on different teams, there’s a little bit more of a rivalry.”
Lopsided wins also play a role, which U-M sophomore Caris LeVert, an Ohio native, learned after MSU delivered a 75-52 drubbing last season at Breslin Center.
“Last year was my first taste of it. Obviously, we got beat by a lot and that was an eye-opener to see how big the rivalry was,” he said. “It’s like any other rivalry game — both teams want to win really bad.
“When we got there, the fans were all there ready for us and we just saw it was a different game than the rest.”
For Stauskas, it was quick indoctrination to the rivalry, coming from Canada and not knowing a lot about it from afar.
“You see it first during football season. You can see not even just the team, but the fans and how much hatred there is between the schools,” he said. “It was kind of funny to me at first. We realized it last year as soon as went to Breslin and we got beat pretty bad — that was getting punched in the mouth. It makes you realize what they feel about us and how we need to feel about them.”
Coach John Beilein doesn’t hate Tom Izzo, but he knows that both teams will go at it furiously on the court.
“This has been a dogfight every time we’ve played — a severe battle. Sometimes they’ve won and sometimes we’ve won,” Beilein said. “I don’t get into the hate and the dislike. These are two teams that will give every ounce of their energy to try to win this game. They’re leaving it all out on that floor for this particular game.”
The stakes are a little higher, with Michigan looking for a season sweep — and with a favorable remaining schedule, a chance to get its second Big Ten title in the last three years.
Michigan State at Michigan
Tipoff: Noon Sunday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor
Records: No. 13 MSU 22-5, 11-3 Big Ten; No. 20 Michigan 18-7, 10-3
Notable: Michigan has won five of the last seven meetings, including an 80-75 win over the then-No. 3 Spartans at the Breslin Center on Jan. 25. U-M is looking for its second season sweep over MSU in the last four years (2011).