Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and James Hawkins of The Detroit News look ahead to the Michigan-Michigan State game in East Lansing on Saturday. Detroit News
East Lansing — For a few days, at least, clichés are out the window.
Every coach and athlete usually has them at the ready, all set to trot out a harmless quote that won’t raise too many eyebrows but doesn’t exactly mean all that much.
Players and coaches in East Lansing and Ann Arbor will still watch what they say over the next couple of days, but with the next edition of the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry set to tip at noon Saturday at the Breslin Center, it’s clear it’s not business as usual.
That was the case Thursday as No. 4 Michigan State went through practice less than a day after getting by Rutgers in overtime. Coach Tom Izzo and his staff were pushing a little harder and the players were responding.
“He always changes (before this game),” Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges said of his coach. “His intensity level goes up. This is not just a regular game for him so he tries to not make it a regular game for us.”
The feelings are no different 60 miles down the road. While Michigan State is coming off two subpar performances, Michigan is still stinging from a one-point loss at home to No. 5 Purdue on Tuesday.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo on the upcoming game against rival Michigan. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
Getting a shot at their rival who happens to be another top-five team is something the Wolverines are relishing.
“The result was an L, but it does raise our confidence that we can compete with a top-five team in the country,” freshman forward Isaiah Livers said. “We got another one coming up. With (Michigan State) coming off a loss, I know they’re gonna come out and bring it. But we gotta come out and bring it, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s home court or not. We’re going to come out and play our basketball.”
The home court belongs to Michigan State (16-2, 4-1 Big Ten). And in one of the odd quirks of the conference scheduling, it’s the only meeting this season.
That is remedied next season as the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry will be protected and will always be a home-and-home moving forward, but the fact there’s only one meeting this season ramps up the intensity.
“It puts more on it,” Michigan State sophomore Cassius Winston said. “You have no other shot. It’s our opportunity to beat Michigan.”
That opportunity is always important, no matter how the season is playing out for either team. But add in the fact both are looking to rebound and there is plenty at stake.
Michigan (14-4, 3-2) is feeling confident after rallying against the Boilermakers before some tough calls led to a one-point defeat. The Wolverines believe a similar effort can result in a win on Saturday.
Spartans Jaren Jackson, Cassius Winston and Miles Bridges discuss playing the Wolverines Saturday at the Breslin Center. Matt Charboneau, Detroit News
“We just got to played how we played when we were making that (second-half) run (against Purdue) for a full 40 minutes,” senior guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman said. “Keep fighting hard, playing defense, rebounding, getting out and running.
“I think we’re a really good team. We made mistakes down the stretch and we just have to continue to grow. We just got to grow every game and I think we can be a great team.”
If past success is any indicator, the Wolverines will, no doubt, carry some confidence into the matchup. After losing by eight at Michigan State in January last season, Michigan returned home to trounce Michigan State, 86-57, a couple of weeks later.
Michigan State’s players admitted they haven’t forgotten that loss, but their coach isn’t using it as any sort of motivation.
“That has happened before,” Izzo said. “Our guys aren’t feeling great about what happened down there last year, but we’re not living in last year anymore. I did that enough early in my career. We’re living in the moment and in the moment we’re 16-2 and it’s an important conference game for our chances to be on top of the conference.”
The bigger picture says Izzo is right. It’s important for both teams if they expect to compete for the Big Ten title. A loss would put Michigan in a tough spot with three losses just six games in while the same result would leave Michigan State two games behind Purdue and Ohio State.
So, needless to say, the intensity will be there, regardless.
Still, it’s different, as the players from the state know.
“Yeah, I probably feel it more than the other guys,” said Winston, a Detroit native. “I’ve grown up watching it, seeing it, making my (college) decision and things like that. This game means a lot to me.”
He and Bridges, a Flint native, are doing their best to let the young players know what it will be like. For freshman Jaren Jackson Jr., words matter little.
“I can just see it in their faces,” Jackson said. “They don’t really need to tell me but they did tell me you have to be in it to really feel it.”
Jackson will be experiencing it for the first time with a bit of a twist. Over on the other sideline is Jordan Poole, Jackson’s high school teammate last season at La Lumiere in LaPorte, Ind.
There won’t be any texts the next couple of days or pregame hugs, however.
“I never want to lose to my friend,” Jackson said. “I already know how it’s gonna be. Whenever me and JP go on the court it’s trash talk, bumping, shoving, whatever. … There’s nothing to say. He’s a competitor just like me. He wouldn’t want to talk to me this week and I definitely don’t want to talk to him.”
No clichés there. This one is different, even the freshmen get it.
Michigan at Michigan State
Tip-off: Noon Saturday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio: Fox/760, 950
Records: No. 4 Michigan State 16-2, 4-1 Big Ten; Michigan 14-4, 3-2
Outlook: Michigan State has won five of the past six meetings and three of the past five games in East Lansing by at least 10 points.
Tale of the tape
Winners in the last 15 meetings in the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry (site in parentheses):
■ Feb. 7, 2017 (UM): Michigan, 86–57
■ Jan. 29, 2017 (MSU): Michigan State, 70–62
■ Feb. 6, 2016 (UM): Michigan State, 89–73
■ Feb. 17, 2015 (UM): Michigan State, 80–67
■ Feb. 1, 2015 (MSU): Michigan State, 76–66
■ March 16, 2014 (Indianapolis): Michigan State, 69–55
■ Feb. 23, 2014 (UM): Michigan, 79–70
■ Jan. 25, 2014 (MSU): Michigan, 80–75
■ March 3, 2013 (UM): Michigan, 58–57
■ Feb. 12, 2013 (MSU): Michigan State, 75–52
■ Feb. 5, 2012 (MSU): Michigan State, 64–54
■ Jan. 17, 2012 (UM): Michigan, 60–59
■ March 5, 2011 (UM): Michigan, 70–63
■ Jan. 27, 2011 (MSU): Michigan, 61–57
■ March 7, 2010 (MSU): Michigan State, 64–48