After losing to Michigan for a third consecutive time, frustration and emotions got the best of Michigan State’s Draymond Green.
So, he guaranteed a win, saying that the Feb. 5 matchup would be circled on his calendar.
That was on Jan. 17 — Feb. 5 is this Sunday, when the Wolverines (7-3 Big Ten, 17-7 overall) will make the short journey up I-96 to face the ninth-ranked Spartans (6-3, 17-5).
The two schools’ biggest programs — football and basketball — have undergone a recent role reversal. Michigan basketball will try to match Michigan State football’s four-game win streak over its archrival.
The forward will surely be anxious to back up his word, but how effectively he’ll be able to do so is the biggest storyline entering the game. In a loss Tuesday at Illinois, Green, who was already playing with the flu, suffered what initially looked to be a serious knee injury.
Green had to be carried off the court and emerged from Assembly Hall on crutches, though an MRI on Wednesday revealed the injury was just a sprain and he’s officially listed as day-to-day. He’ll play Sunday, but it remains to be seen how the knee will hold up.
An injured Green — the Spartans’ best player and their heart and soul — gives the Wolverines a leg up, but senior guard Zack Novak doesn’t want the game to come down to that.
“I hope so,” Novak said Wednesday, when asked if he wants Green to play. “You don’t want a kid to get hurt in his senior year. You like to see everybody play.”
But if history has its way, even a healthy Green would struggle against Michigan. The Wolverines have used frequent double teams in the post to stifle Green. In seven games against Michigan, the senior has averaged just seven points. Three weeks ago in Ann Arbor, he was held to seven points — a season low until the injury-shortened game in Champaign — and five turnovers, which matched a season high.
Freshman point guard Trey Burke scored a game-leading 20 points in the last go around, a 60-59 win, but has struggled in tough road environments like Ohio State’s Value City Arena and Indiana’s Assembly Hall. Next up for Burke is the Breslin Center and its vaunted Izzone student section, which has helped propel the Spartans to a 13-0 home record.
“They’re going to give us everything they’ve got,” Burke said. “We beat them here and we’re on a roll there, so we know that they’re going to come out with all types of intensities. It’s going to be a personal game on Saturday.”
On Wednesday, No. 23 Michigan used a scorching start and strong defense to knock off the Hoosiers, 68-56, holding Indiana 22 points below its season average. The Wolverines will use the impressive win to ride into East Lansing with momentum.
“It definitely helps us out tremendously, just to take what we did on the defensive end, how we boxed out and how we played tough in the first half,” said sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. “We can definitely take a lot of things from that.”
Michigan’s win over the Hoosiers moved the Wolverines into a tie for second place in the conference, just a half game behind the first-place Buckeyes and a half game ahead of Michigan State.
With just three weeks remaining in the regular season, the congested standings make this game crucial.
“We feel like every game from here on out is a must-win game, just because you can go from (No.) 2 or 3 in the Big Ten to (No.) 6 or 7 in a matter of a week,” Burke said. “We know that every single game is probably playing for a Big Ten Championship.”