Sunday, Michigan used a dominant second half to knock off rival Michigan State, 79-70, completing a season sweep of the Spartans and putting the maize and blue in the driver’s seat for the regular-season conference title.
The two teams from the Great Lakes State entered Sunday’s showdown knotted in the loss column for the Big Ten lead (the Spartans have played one more conference game than the Wolverines). But thanks to a 45-point second-half surge and a total of 48 points from Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, the Wolverines now hold the edge in the standings.
“It’s a great win because of who we just beat. Michigan State has been such a tremendous program for so long, I mean decades. They’ve got a great coach, they’ve got great players. And for us to be able to beat them — and we’re both atop the Big Ten Conference — for us to be able to beat them is just a terrific accomplishment,” Michigan head coach John Beilein said after the game. “From here, I’m sure they will pick up and just keep on winning, and we’ve got to try to do the same thing.”
And the win does more than just put Michigan a notch ahead of Michigan State. The remainder of the schedule sets up far more favorably for the Wolverines than it does for the Spartans. Michigan should be fairly big favorites in their final four games: at Purdue, vs. Minnesota, at Illinois and vs. Indiana. Meanwhile, Michigan State takes on Illinois at home before hosting ranked Iowa and closing with a visit to ranked Ohio State.
Beilein mentioned that he’s sure the Spartans will rebound nicely, and they do get almost an entire week off before that meeting with the Fighting Illini. So it’s up to the Wolverines to keep winning in the meantime, and though they haven’t won back-to-back games since the calendar flipped to February, a look ahead at the schedule makes one feel like that could all change.
You can’t count your chickens in college hoops — especially in this year’s Big Ten — but the Wolverines are at least set up nicely for a regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament.
“It’s huge,” Stauskas said. “We’re putting ourselves in a really good position to achieve our goal of being Big Ten champions, but we know that we have four big games left to win. So it’s definitely going to be tough.”
Beilein sees it somewhat similarly.
“It’s part of the formula you have to do, you have to beat Michigan State if you’re going to win,” he said. “No, it doesn’t win us a championship, it doesn’t put us in position for it. We’ve got four games to play. What it does do right now is it puts us in position to be in position. It’s all it does.”