Michigan State Spartans vs Michigan Wolverines

Gabe Brown #44 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates his three point basket. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images/AFP
Gabe Brown #44 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates his three point basket. Rey Del Rio/Getty Images/AFP

Despite their struggles all season, the Michigan State Spartans have a chance to make a late push into the NCAA Tournament on this week’s college basketball odds calendar with back-to-back games against the Michigan Wolverines.

Michigan State Spartans vs. Michigan Wolverines

Thursday, March 04, 2021 – 07:00 PM EST at Crisler Center

While this year’s schedule has been fraught with challenges and frustrations over postponements and cancellations, it has made for some interesting back-to-back matchups among some rivals here at the end of the regular season. Michigan State has moved at least back into the bubble picture for March Madness, and winning at least one more game would guarantee the Spartans a Day 1 bye at the Big Ten Tournament next week in Indianapolis. A sweep of their rivals this week would almost lock up a No. 1 seed for the Wolverines at the Big Dance, while just one win would secure the top seed in the conference tourney for Michigan.

Spartans Have Covered Four of Last Five

There are big games galore peppered all over Thursday’s slate, but ESPN decided this was the one for its prime-time slot. DraftKings is selling the Wolverines as 12½-point home favorites, and set the scoreboard target at 139½.

That big spread would make it seem very unlikely the Spartans could pull off the outright upset, especially when one factors in they are 2-7 straight up and against the spread in Big Ten road games. The two road dubyas came at Nebraska and Indiana, with the Cornhuskers likely to be the No. 14 seed next week in the conference tourney and the Hoosiers quite possibly having to play on the first day as well.

Michigan State completed a season sweep of the Hoosiers with a 64-58 decision in East Lansing earlier this week. The Spartans managed to cover the 3½-point spread thanks to a mighty effort by Aaron Henry, who scored a game-high 22 while adding eight rebounds and five assists to his ledger. Tom Izzo downplayed the victory afterwards by saying, “Not the prettiest game we’ve ever played,” and also noted disappointment in the play of his point guards. There were 45 whistles in the contest, leading to both teams scoring 20 points at the line, and Michigan State shot just 4-of-17 from 3-point range.

‘Under’ a Winner in 6 of Wolverines’ Last 7

Juwan Howard has plenty to smile about this season while watching his Wolverines go from unranked in the preseason coaches poll all the way up to No. 2 this week. They sit 15th nationally in offensive efficiency, and fourth in the country allowing teams to only connect on 38.8% of their field goal attempts.

Whether or not Michigan remains No. 2 in next week’s polls is uncertain, however, after being dominated at home on Tuesday by Illinois. The 76-53 loss came as 8½-point favorites at USA betting sites, and allowed the Fighting Illini to tie the Wolverines at the top of the Big Ten standings. Howard predicted that watching the film would be like “a horror film,” and rightfully so considering how poorly Michigan did against a tough Illinois defense. The Fighting Illini outclassed the Wolverines on the glass, 42-26, and made the offensive rebounds count for something by outscoring Michigan 22-5 in second-chance points.

‘Dogs Have Covered 5 of Last 7 Meetings

Michigan has a comfortable 107-85 lead in the rivalry that is being renewed for the 193rd time. Last year’s matchups ended in wins and covers for the home teams, the Wolverines improving to 68-31 when the sides meet in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s 77-68 win at Crisler came with the Spartans sporting 2½-point road chalk, and halted a 3-game win streak in the series for Michigan State. The Spartans had won three of their previous four trips to Ann Arbor before the setback last February.

One issue for the Wolverines in Tuesday’s loss to Illinois was a hobbled Isaiah Livers in the second half. Livers injured an ankle and was held to 7 points, less than half his usual scoring clip. He played through it, however, and is expected to be ready for the Spartans. This is the biggest spread in the series in quite some time, and with that trend favoring the underdogs in the rivalry, I’ll gladly take the points with my free NCAA basketball pick.

NCAAB Pick: Michigan State +12½ (-110) at DraftKings

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