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Faithful Spartan fans are always eyeballing their team’s next encounter with their bitter in-state rival Wolverines. Fresh off a nine-point win in Columbus, Ohio against the 14th ranked Buckeyes, MSU has a dozen conference games to wade through before a trip to Ann Arbor in late February.

Both schools are parked in the top-10 of the current NCAA basketball rankings. We’re nearly two months away from the first of two regular season games head-to-head. But, whispers of a super important battle in Ann Arbor are careening across the state. Many still feel the Spartans have the better team.

Sure, there is a lot of Big 10 basketball ahead for both these rival schools before that first encounter, but it may have huge implications when that day does arise. So, what will the Wolverines need to do to beat Michigan State in their Sunday afternoon, nationally televised war on February 24th?

Be More Determined

Since Michigan State dropped their season opener against then top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, the Spartans stock has been rising. They have dropped one other game, a four-point nail-biter on the home court of the Louisville Cardinals.

Coach Tom Izzo would never let his squad look ahead farther than their next opponent, but fans will. There is a reasonable likelihood both teams will be in the thick of both the national and Big 10 championship pictures. Michigan currently sits undefeated at 3rd in the country.

The lower ranked team has won the last four head-to-head matchups when both teams have been ranked. If the season continues on its current course over the next few weeks, as potentially the higher ranked team, Michigan must be more determined than the Spartans.

Home Court Advantage

Since 2010, the winner of this in-state hoops battle has been won in spurts. Michigan State culminated a 2010 season sweep with their fourth consecutive victory. Since then, Michigan has won in three-game blocks, with none of these three victories being very close.

Their nine-point win in New York last March was that third straight victory. The Wolverines will need to take advantage of the fever-pitch enthusiasm that will come from the Maize Rage. Michigan needs to start fast to raise the noise level inside Crisler Arena.

While the student section is an important advantage at every home Michigan game, against the Spartans their rowdiness will be even more intense. Michigan needs to take advantage of this home court edge.

Defend, Defend, Defend

Michigan has the 3rd most efficient defense in the nation currently. The Spartans produce points at the 9th highest total per game in the country. Something will have to give in Ann Arbor on February 24th.

One reason the Spartans score so prolifically is their 9th rated three-point shooting percentage. The Wolverines will have to defend the entire court against Michigan State. Since Michigan doesn’t shoot the ball nearly as efficiently as the Spartans.

They must vigorously defend against the Spartans, contesting every shot. Michigan has held nine of their 14 opponents this season to under 60 points. To beat the Spartans in their first head-to-head matchup, and maybe keep an undefeated season alive, Michigan must defend, defend, and defend.

Take Care of the Ball

The fourth key to giving Michigan an edge of the Spartans will be turnovers. You may think this is a commonly mentioned game factor, but it may prove even more so in this head-to-head matchup. Turnovers have been a key factor in each of these team’s games to date.

Part of Michigan’s success thus far has been in no small part the result of committing the fifth fewest turnovers in the nation. Michigan State has turned the ball over nearly 60 more times than the Wolverines. Late game turnovers cost the Spartans the game against Louisville.

The Spartans are tied for 159th in the country in relation to turnover prevalence. Usually, this poor of standing doesn’t generate a top-10 ranking with only two defeats. Clearly, Tom Izzo’s MSU squad will try to reduce their turnovers on February 24th.

They also will be trying to force their rivals into miscues. If Michigan State can even out the turnover disparity, it won’t bode well for the Wolverines. Michigan’s point production feeds off turnovers, while at the same time avoiding them on offense. Turnovers will be a huge factor in this game.

When the Michigan State Spartans come calling to Crisler Center it will be an important game in the Big 10 Conference and on the national stage. To best their recent trend of winning only three consecutive matchups, the Wolverines will need to bring their best. You can get the best Michigan-themed clothing before you head to the big game at LivnFresh.com.

Coach John Beilein’s squad will need to be determined and take advantage of playing on their home floor. None of these will be as important as protecting the basketball themselves while forcing the Spartans into turnovers. Plus, having one of the best defenses in the country, Michigan will have to bring that defensive mindset from the opening tap. Check out our Home Grown hoodie to rep the Mitten State in style.