Michigan State coach Tom Izzo looks ahead to facing Michigan on Senior Night. Matt Charboneau, The Detroit News
The Detroit News’ Matt Charboneau breaks down three keys for Michigan State in Saturday’s game against Michigan at the Breslin Center (8 p.m., ESPN/WJR 760, WWJ 950).
Let Cassius be Cassius
OK, no one is stopping Cassius Winston from running the show for the Spartans, but another performance like he had in the first meeting will go a long way toward Michigan State pulling of the regular-season sweep and earning at least a share of the Big Ten championship.
The numbers were impressive enough as the Spartans junior point guard scored 27 points and handed out eight assists. But it was his ability to control the game, running off high ball screens most of the game while orchestrating the Michigan State offense that confounded Michigan’s normally outstanding defense. Even without Nick Ward in the post and only taking one 3-pointer, Winston was able to do just about anything he wanted against Zavier Simpson, one of the top defensive players in the country.
Winston might not have to score 27 again. After all, he’s been the most important player on the court all season for Michigan State, regardless of his point total. But he has to control the game and get the better of Simpson again. If he does, the Spartans will likely be raising a banner by late Saturday night.
Get on the glass, Part II
This is Part II because it was one of the keys in the first meeting, and it really will be a key every time this Michigan State team takes the floor. The Spartans’ overall rebounding numbers look good, but they’re giving up far too many offensive rebounds, including 13 in a win Tuesday over Nebraska and 15 in last weekend’s loss at Indiana.
The Wolverines are not a good offensive rebounding team, but they had 12 in the last meeting, which led to 11 second-chance points. While it’s not one of Michigan’s strengths, the Wolverines know it’s been an issue for the Spartans and count on them hitting the offensive glass more than they typically do against most opponents. There’s risk to that as Michigan State likes to get out in transition, and if Michigan is more focused on grabbing rebounds, the Spartans could take advantage.
But they’ll only be able to do that if they win the rebounding battle, especially under their own basket. In a game that will almost certainly will be close, every possession will matter. Giving the Wolverines extra cracks at putting the ball in the basket while limiting theirs isn’t a formula that would favor the Spartans.
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
Senior night surge
It’s the final home game for two Michigan State players, and while it would be a feel-good story for forward Kenny Goins and guard Matt McQuaid to have big games, the mushy stuff is hardly the most important angle. Both have played critical roles for the Spartans this season, roles that have become even more important as injuries continue to mount.
Goins has been one of Michigan State’s most steady players all season, but with the absence of Nick Ward the last four games because of a hand injury, Goins has been outstanding. He’s become a sharp-shooter from 3-point range, making 13 in the last three games, including three in the first meeting with the Wolverines. He’s also Michigan State’s best rebounder and can defend multiple positions. McQuaid has become the Spartans’ best perimeter defender with Joshua Langford out for the season, and in the past month, his shooting touch has returned.
Both had career-highs in scoring in Michigan State’s win over Nebraska on Tuesday with Goins scoring 24 and McQuaid pouring in 22. They don’t need to better those numbers to win, but they do need to continue to be a big part of the Spartans’ plans on both ends of the court. Play the way have for the better part of the Big Ten season, and Michigan State’s seniors will kiss the Spartan logo at midcourt as conference champs for the second straight year.