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Big Ten unbeatens Michigan, MSU collide Saturday
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Published: 1/25/2014  at  5:42:00 AM
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Jack Breslin Student Events Center – East Lansing, MI
Tip-off: Saturday, 7:00 p.m. ET
Line: Michigan State -4.5

No. 3 Michigan State will be down two starters on Saturday when No. 21 Michigan comes to town in a battle of the top two teams in the Big Ten.

The Wolverines appeared to be in trouble when it was announced that PF Mitch McGary (9.5 PPG) would miss the rest of the season due to a back injury. However, Michigan (9-6-1 ATS overall, 2-3 ATS on road) has done a great job of turning it around, with eight straight wins (6-1-1 ATS), including two consecutive victories over Top 10 teams (Wisconsin and Iowa) to improve to 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS in the conference. The Wolverines are 4-2 SU (3-3 ATS) in the past six meetings of this in-state rivalry, including a 58-57 home win in the most recent meeting last March. But when these schools last met in East Lansing last season, the Spartans rolled to a 75-52 victory. SG Gary Harris led MSU in that rout with 17 points (5-of-9 threes) plus four rebounds, three assists and three steals. Harris will have an extended role in this game, as the Spartans, who are riding an 11-game win streak (8-3 ATS), will be without two starters in their frontcourt, C Adreian Payne (16.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG) and SF Branden Dawson (10.2 PPG, 8.7 RPG). Payne remains out with a sprained right foot while Dawson will be out 4-to-5 weeks with a broken bone in his right hand suffered on Thursday after slamming his hand on a table watching film, and he's expected to be out for at least a month. With their top two rebounders out with injuries, the Spartans (11-7 ATS overall, 4-5 ATS at home) may be forced to try and increase the tempo of the game to remain unbeaten in conference play (7-0 SU, 5-2 ATS in Big Ten).

Which Michigan team will extend its long win streak and remain unbeaten in conference play on Saturday? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts have been rolling in college basketball Best Bets this season with a 59% ATS (166-114-5) mark, including a stellar 63% ATS (134-80) record since Nov. 23. StatFox Brian is at 63% ATS (35-21-1) in Best Bets for the season and 67% ATS (28-14) since Nov. 26. StatFox Dave is 61% ATS (34-22-1) for the season and 71% ATS (17-7) since Dec. 18, while StatFox Zach is a strong 58% ATS (32-23-1) on Best Bets this season, including 62% ATS (26-16) since Nov. 22. StatFox Gary is 56% ATS (31-24-2) for the season, and 62% ATS (23-14) since Dec. 3, while StatFox Scott is 59% ATS (34-24) for the season and 62% ATS (24-15) since Dec. 2.

Michigan has done a great job on offense this season, ranking 20th in the nation in shooting (48.7% FG), 30th in assists (15.6 APG) and 64th among all Division I teams in scoring (77.2 PPG). But although the team does a decent job defensively, allowing just 63.7 PPG on 43.1% FG, those numbers spike to 69.4 PPG on 46.1% FG in non-home games. One of the biggest reasons for the recent surge by the Wolverines has been the play of SG Nik Stauskas (18.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.8 APG), who has scored at least a dozen points in all eight games of the current win streak, and has netted more than 20 points in the past three contests, averaging 23.3 PPG on 51% FG. He scored 10 points in his visit to East Lansing last season, but played just four minutes in the home win over MSU after suffering a cut over his left eye. SG Caris LeVert (11.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 2.8 APG) was able to play extended minutes that night with Stauskas out, finishing with eight points and two steals. LeVert has played a much bigger role on the team this season, as he has the ability to catch fire from deep (36% threes). In his team's last road game last Saturday at Wisconsin, LeVert exploded for 20 points with seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. Both Stauskas and LeVert stand at 6-foot-6, creating a major mismatch for opposing teams guards. While these two have been great, the continued emergence of freshman PG Derrick Walton Jr. (7.7 PPG, 2.7 APG) has helped the Wolverines offense become even more potent. He played only three minutes in the victory over Iowa due to the flu, but is expected to be ready for this game. While they are playing much better basketball, there is no denying that Michigan is missing PF Mitch McGary (8.3 RPG) on the boards, where the team ranks 267th in the nation with 33.4 RPG. Sophomore F Glenn Robinson III (13.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG) is playing a lot of power forward, but is built more like a small forward. His athleticism creates a lot of mismatches on the offensive end, but he has struggled this season against big-time post players. He also did very little against Michigan State last season with only 10 points and five rebounds in a combined 52 minutes of action. With the Spartans injuries however, they are lacking a true presence down low, which could mean a big game from Robinson on Saturday. With a veteran team in East Lansing, injuries will not cause the Spartans to fold, as they still have a lot of talent on the team.

Michigan State comes into this game ranked fifth in the nation in assists (17.8 APG), 26th in rebounding (39.5 RPG) and 30th in scoring (79.9 PPG). The rebounding numbers will be difficult to keep up without SF Branden Dawson and C Adreian Payne, but Michigan State still should be able to compete on the backboards against a bad rebounding team. Defensively, the Spartans allow 63.9% FG on a mere 37.9% FG (11th in nation).With SG Gary Harris (18.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and PG Keith Appling (15.6 PPG, 4.6 APG, 3.6 RPG) manning the backcourt, the Spartans still have one the elite guard duos in all of the country. Harris has not had quite the season shooting from three (33%) as he did last season (41%), but he has caught fire in his past two games, scoring 23.5 PPG on 68% FG (6-for-10 threes). Appling has been contributing greatly to this team ever since he arrived on campus four years ago, and coach Tom Izzo allows his senior point guard the freedom to go out and make plays. But he shot terribly against the Wolverines last season, when he made only 7-of-23 shots (30%), including 1-for-9 threes. SG Denzel Valentine (7.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 3.9 APG) and PG Travis Trice (7.1 PPG, 42% threes, 2.1 APG) will see their roles increase now with the injuries, and will be counted upon to do more scoring. This is a huge rivalry game within itself, but the fact that the winner is in the driver’s seat of the Big Ten, and the intensity will be at a very high level.

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