Three keys for Michigan against Michigan State

James Hawkins
The Detroit News
Jordan Poole

The Detroit News’ James Hawkins breaks down three keys for Michigan in Sunday’s game against Michigan State at Crisler Center (3:45 p.m., CBS/WJR 760, WWJ 950).

Contain Cassius

Hounding Michigan State guard Cassius Winston and making his life miserable for all 40 minutes is priority No. 1 for Michigan. And that would’ve been the case even if his castmates Joshua Langford and Nick Ward weren’t sidelined with injuries.

Winston is the driving force behind Michigan State’s offensive attack and his numbers back it up: 18.9 points, 7.4 assists, 46.5 percent shooting from field and 43.4 percent shooting from 3-point range. He’s posted four double-doubles and has scored at least 20 points 14 times, two more than Michigan’s top two leading scorers Ignas Brazdeikis (seven) and Charles Matthews (five) combined.

Yet, even if Winston is having a rough shooting night, the Spartans have proven they can prevail when he isn’t at his best. In the 18-point win over Ohio State last week, Winston shot 3-for-15 from the field but he made up for it by drawing multiple defenders, creating open looks and finding his teammates.

While it’s impossible to keep the ball out of Winston’s hands, limiting his effectiveness as a playmaker, slowing his scoring and frustrating him every time he touches the ball will undoubtedly be part of the defensive formula.

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Stop the break

Michigan State can push the ball with the best of them and looks to get easy buckets in transition at every opportunity. Whether it’s off a defensive stop or a made shot by an opponent, one can never rest on its heels because the Spartans will fly right by.

During Big Ten play, Michigan State has racked up 29 fast-break points against Maryland, 28 against Northwestern and 20 apiece against Minnesota and Rutgers. But during its three-game skid earlier this month, it never came close to those numbers: 10 fast-break points at Purdue, 14 against Indiana and eight at Illinois.

The Wolverines don’t crash the offensive glass with reckless abandon and opt to get back to take away fast-break chances. The two times they struggled to do so? The losses at Iowa and at Penn State, where they gave up a season-high 13 fast-break points in each contest.

At Crisler Center, though, Michigan rarely lets foes get out in transition and has allowed only 12 fast-break points in its last four home games against Maryland (two), Wisconsin (zero), Ohio State (two) and Minnesota (eight).

Reopen the Poole

Every player on Michigan’s roster has gone through a rough patch at some point this season, whether it was junior guard Zavier Simpson’s string of missed 3-pointers, Brazdeikis’ forgettable performances against Wisconsin or the disappearance of Matthews’ mid-range game.

For sophomore guard Jordan Poole, it’s been a rugged 2019. Since Big Ten play resumed, Poole is averaging 12.7 points in 35 minutes and shooting 29.8 percent from 3-point range — nearly 10 percent below his season average. Uncoincidentally, Michigan hasn’t fared much better as a team from 3-point range, shooting 32.3 percent over the same 14-game stretch.

Poole has reached double figures 10 times during the span, but his field-goal attempts have nearly matched his scoring production on most occasions: 10 points on 10 shots, 14 points on 15 shots, 15 points on 14 shots, 15 points on 13 shots, 10 points on 11 shots and 17 points on 16 shots.

It was only a matter of time before Poole made a splash again — like he did in Thursday’s win at Minnesota — and his long-range shooting is much-needed entering the closing stretch. He’s had some highs in Michigan’s matchups against ranked opponents this season, and going up against a rival could provide the elixir to permanently snap out of his month-long funk.

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins