Michigan State's Matt McQuaid, Kenny Goins and Cassius Winston on facing Michigan on Senior Night with the Big Ten regular-season title on the line. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
The Detroit News’ Matt Charboneau breaks down Saturday’s Michigan-Michigan State game at Breslin Center in East Lansing (8 p.m., ESPN/WJR 760, WWJ 950).
It was the matchup to watch in the first meeting and there’s little indication that will change this time.
That matchup, of course, is Michigan State’s Cassius Winston vs. Michigan’s Zavier Simpson.
The Wolverines junior got the best of Winston in two meetings last season, leading many to wonder whether Winston could find a way to play well against Simpson. He answered that emphatically in Michigan State’s 77-70 victory nearly two weeks ago as Winston likely cemented the Big Ten Player of the Year award by scoring 27 points and handing out eight assists while controlling the game from start to finish.
None of that is to say Simpson played poorly. In fact, Simpson was Michigan’s best player, scoring 19 while grabbing five rebounds and handing out a couple of assists. Each played all 40 minutes in the first game, and how this one plays out will be determined by which point guard plays the best. Both have been good all season, though Winston was hampered in this week’s win over Nebraska by lingering tendinitis in his knee, something that could affect him Saturday.
Michigan State senior Matt McQuaid is coming off a career-high 22 points in Tuesday’s 91-76 win over Nebraska, and appears to be over a sprained right ankle that hampered him in the loss at Indiana. Before that, McQuaid had been playing well, scoring in double figures three straight games while continuing to be the Spartans’ best perimeter defender. This will be his last game at the Breslin Center, likely motivation to go along with everything else at stake.
Michigan sophomore Jordan Poole was outstanding two weeks ago at Minnesota, scoring 22 on 8-for-16 shooting. Since then, however, Poole has struggled. He scored 15 in the first meeting with Michigan State, but six points came on late threes with the game out of reach as Poole was just 5-for-13 while he had his share of defensive lapses. Poole scored six points in the Nebraska blowout and had 12 on 4-for-12 shooting at Maryland last weekend.
► Edge: Michigan State
Both sides have some injury questions here as Michigan State’s Nick Ward has missed the last four games with a broken hand while Michigan’s Charles Matthews hasn’t played in the last two games with an ankle injury.
Neither team is giving any real indication whether either will play, so we’ll assume both are out. Xavier Tillman has taken over for Michigan State and has been effective, bringing more athleticism while lacking in low-post offense. He’s scored in double figures in all four games and has grabbed double-digit rebounds in two. Kenny Goins has been the difference for Michigan State the last few weeks, becoming a prolific 3-pointer shooter. He was 3-for-9 from long range in the last meeting when he scored 16 and had 11 rebounds. He scored a career-high 24 on Tuesday against Nebraska. Freshman Aaron Henry has been inconsistent, but is coming off a career-best 15 points in the win over Nebraska.
With Matthews potentially out, Isaiah Livers has moved into the starting lineup and has hit three 3-pointers in each of the last two games. Freshman Ignas Brazdeikis has started to come on the last couple of weeks, looking like he intends to grab the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year honors. He’s scored in double figures the last five games, scoring 16 in the first matchup with the Spartans. He followed that with 20 against Nebraska and 21 vs. Maryland, and was 6-for-9 combined from 3-point range in those two games.
In the last three games, Jon Teske has been a tad inconsistent. He was great in the win over Nebraska with 22 points and a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range. But he had just 10 points vs. Michigan State and 11 against Maryland. He didn’t take a three against the Spartans, and was just 1-for-6 in the win over the Terrapins.
► Edge: Even
At this point in the season, neither team is using a big rotation and some of that is because of injuries. Each has been forced to go a little deeper the last few games, but it’s hard to imagine there will be a ton of bench minutes with so much at stake in this game.
With Matthews out and Livers in the starting lineup, guard Eli Brooks is the only player who has earned regular minutes this season. Most of those have been to spell Simpson, who played all 40 minutes in the last matchup, which could happen again this time around. The playing time has been even more sporadic for freshman guard David DeJulius and forward Brandon Johns. Along with Brooks, they played a total of 14 minutes in the first meeting. The one wild card is freshman big man Colin Castleton, who has been good in spot duty the last two games.
The Spartans’ bench has been just as up and down as Michigan’s. Freshman Foster Loyer didn’t play in the last meeting, but almost certainly will see a few minutes this time to give Winston and his sore knees a break. Freshman Thomas Kithier again will play 10 minutes or more, especially if Ward is out. He’s been solid in nearly every showing this season and was in the first meeting, though he did have a few defensive lapses. The wild card is freshman Gabe Brown, who played five minutes in the first meeting while he saw almost 22 minutes on Tuesday vs. Nebraska. If junior Kyle Ahrens (back) is out, Brown will be counted on to play almost as many minutes vs. the Wolverines.
► Edge: Even
Trying to come up with an edge when comparing Tom Izzo and John Beilein is nearly impossible, especially considering their head-to-head record is 12-9 in favor of Izzo, though the Spartans’ win in late February ended a three-game winning streak for Beilein.
They coach a different style, too, so the comparisons are difficult. We won’t factor in resumes at this point because both are impressive. Izzo is in the Hall of Fame, and it would be hard to imagine Beilein not ending up there, as well.
Instead, we’re left to wonder who makes the next move in the chess match. Izzo has the upper hand right now after changing the way Michigan State plays defense in the first meeting and confounding the Wolverines’ offense. You’d have to expect a counter this time from Beilein, who hadn’t seen Michigan State switch screens the way it did the first time around. Izzo understands that, so what’s his next move? It’s a fascinating story line, but to say one is better than the other seems fruitless.