Michigan State will defeat the University of Michigan at Crisler Arena in their first showdown on Tuesday.
I'm not willing to bet the house on MSU over U-M, and I realize I'm picking the favorite (am willing to give points), but am fairly confident, roughly about 95 percent confident.
Why? Because Michigan State plays smarter ball while U-M, especially Tim Hardaway Jr., shoots too many three-pointers.
Michigan Coach John Beilein, in his fifth season, has done amazing work in lifting the program out of the ashes of recruiting scandals and NCAA sanctions. I just don't understand his long-gun strategy on offense. I I realize the Wolverines lack a star big man, but still, not to be trite, a team that lives and dies by three-pointers can't be consistent enough to win championships or tournaments. Plus, Beilein looks and behaves like a military drill sergeant; i.e. a fundamental type of guy. U-M's loosey-goosey offense doesn't seem to fit with his personality. As Bobby Knight once said, if we truly value fundamental basketball, a layup or dunk should be three points and a long shot should be only one point.
Here are some comparative season stats: Michigan, two-point shots, 299 of 543 (55 percent); three-point shots, 150 of 431 (35 percent). Michigan State, two-point shots 395 of 758 (52 percent); three-point shots 101 of 278 (36 percent). Obviously, the percentages are similar. The key is in the quantity. Nearly half of U-M's shots are triple tries; in fact, in a blowout defeat at Iowa, the Wolverines were 12 of 21 on two-pointers and 8 of 31 on triples.
In comparing the standout sophomore guards, at this point in their careers I'd take MSU's Keith Appling over Hardaway Jr. This feeling is simply intuitive in seeing both of them in action. Then my feeling was reinforced by checking their stats: Appling, 12.9 ppg with 57 of 109 (52 percent) on two-pointers and 16 of 53 (30 percent) on triples. Hardaway Jr,. 15.7 ppg with 68 of 128 (55 percent) on two-pointers and 30 of 105 (29 percent) on three-pointers. Again, percentages may be similar but check out the quanties. Plus, Hardaway doesn't seem to know how to stop when he's cold; in the Iowa debacle he shot eight triples and missed them all.
If you compare scores, it can be tough to predict Tuesday's outcome. if we compare Michigan State over Iowa, 95-61, and Iowa over Michigan, 75-59, then it looks like 60-point blowout for MSU. But the Wolverines nipped Northwestern while the Spartans were defeated by the 'Cats. Who knows?
On the bottom line, that's my issue with U-M's style of play. They shoot so many triples, who knows? Sometimes they might go unconscious and beat a favored team like Michigan State, but to constantly bomb away from downtown is like shooting craps, in addition to being the antithesis of team play.