Michigan and Michigan State have played each other in basketball 175 times, and while the hype certainly has been greater, that doesn't take away any of the intensity of the rivalry.
When the teams meet Tuesday night (9, ESPN) at Crisler Center in Ann Arbor, the Spartans and Wolverines won't be battling each other for the Big Ten championship, but there is still plenty at stake for each team.
MSU IS PLAYING FOR ...
Michigan State firmly is in the field after last weekend's victory over Ohio State, and a win over Michigan tonight won't improve its stock much. But considering the Wolverines have an RPI of 86, it's vital the Spartans avoid a loss. There will be plenty of chances for Michigan State to help — or hurt — its resume with road games against Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana.
Big Ten race
Odds are, most teams are playing for second behind Wisconsin. Finishing in the top four is important because those teams get what amounts to a double-bye in the conference tournament. While it would limit chances for Michigan State to pick up victories, it also eliminates the chance of an early loss to a lower-rated team that could be crippling to its NCAA chances.
As much as this game is about the NCAA Tournament and Big Ten standings for Michigan State, it is still against its biggest rival. It might not carry the national attention it did the past couple seasons, and it won't greatly impact the conference race, but it is still huge for all those involved. No player on the Spartans roster has won at Crisler Center.
UM IS PLAYING FOR ...
After a hard-fought 40 minutes in the first meeting at Breslin Center, Michigan was outscored 10-0 in overtime. Since then, Michigan has lost three of its last six in overtime. The Wolverines have a four-game winning streak at Crisler Center, and even in a down year, they don't want that to come to an end — especially not to their rivals.
With four freshmen in the rotation, Michigan has taken its lumps. But coach John Beilein has seen some flashes of brilliance, as well. Building on that for the remainder of the season sets up bigger improvements during the offseason and a potential bounce-back year.
The Wolverines are in ninth in the conference, and if they fall to 11th or lower, they would play on the first day of the Big Ten tournament. More importantly, they'll need a couple more wins to ensure at least a .500 record and a spot in the NIT. Michigan likely wouldn't accept a spot in the CBI or CIT tournaments.