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Friday, March 7, 2014


The basketball game between Michigan State and Michigan tonight in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament has all the makings of a great match-up. Some may view MSU as a prohibitive favorite based on season record, conference finish, previous meeting, and program history, but I see it differently. This game could go down to the wire.

Both teams have a very strong starting group, and if the top five from each team were required to play all 40 minutes, this one could to to overtime. The Spartans have a small edge in bench strength, along with several size-advantages on the floor. But the Wolverines have one mis-match player and a feisty attitude built on years of domination by the green and white.

The fact that UM played last night may help them in the early stages of the game, as they were already successful on that floor and in that environment. That same fact should help MSU in the second half, as the wolverine women start to feel the fatigue of two games in two nights. This is a neutral factor that will only swing to help Michigan State if they can take a lead into half-time.

Michigan has small guards that create match-up problems that favor several larger Spartans. But their guards can shoot and score and have done so all season. If UM gets hot from outside, it may become a struggle for MSU.

The Wolverines also have two very effective front-line players in 6'4" Val Driscoll and 6'3" Cyesha Goree. The Spartans can counter with three players of similar size, along with 6'7" Madison Williams. One of the big keys to victory for Michigan State is how well the two UM "bigs" can be neutralized by the MSU front-line. There are no relevant front-line subs for Michigan after Driscoll and Goree.

If fouls become an issue for both teams, the Spartans will benefit, as their playing group goes seven-deep, with two more situational players available in Williams and Cara Miller. The Wolverines use one player off the bench to supplement their starters, and that's about it for their depth. A game without many fouls probably means a game that goes deep into the second half.

The biggest problem to solve on the court tonight will be presented by the athletic and mobile Goree, a player who "came out of nowhere" this season after very limited playing time the last two seasons. She is bulky and fast for a 6'3" player, and Suzy Merchant doesn't seem to have one single option to take her out of the game. In my opinion, Goree needs to be handled by several players, and whoever guards her must leave her alone on the perimeter where she is just a passer. If Goree covers Analise Pickrel or Becca Mills, both players should take her out of the paint to shoot three-pointers, limiting Goree's rebounding. In crunch-time, the Spartans need to put Goree on the foul line, where she is the only poor free-throw shooter who will wear yellow shorts tonight.

This game would have "trouble" marked all over it if the Spartans were weak in character or soft on discipline. But MSU has been playing great ball for more than a month now. Several chemistry problems that slowed them down early in the season appear to have been totally solved by Merchant. These players should play like Spartans tonight, and if they do, they should win the game. But I don't expect Michigan to roll over and go down easy.

Coverage on the Big Ten Network is scheduled to begin this evening at 6:30 p.m.

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