In order to prepare for Michigan State, the Wolverines closely watched the film of their last matchup with the Spartans, a team that beat Michigan by 15 points at the Breslin Center in December.
And though the Spartans aren’t known for playing zone, the Wolverines watched as the defensive strategy worked last time. So it would be no surprise if the Spartans do it again tonight.
To break that zone, the Wolverines (6-7 Big Ten, 14-9) are going to have to be versatile on offense. Whatever style of defense Michigan State (6-6, 15-8) decides to impose, Michigan will have to adapt.
The key to that may be scoring in the middle. At 6-foot-6, senior center Krista Phillips is Michigan’s tallest player, and her position as a post player or sharpshooter all depends on the defense State decides to play.
“We have several man-to-man zone offenses,” Phillips said. “So we could go either way. I could go inside or outside, it just depends on the flow of the game and who is contributing from where.”
The Spartans’ tallest weapon, Allyssa DeHaan, stands at 6-foot-9, and Michigan will have to find a way around her. If Michigan State plays a zone defense, the Wolverines will stay on the perimeter but if the Spartans play man-to-man they hope to get around DeHaan.
“We are focusing on getting around the rim and trying to find a way to get around her and just making sure we capitalize when she is outside of the lane and knock down perimeter shots,” junior guard Veronica Hicks said.
Beyond a presence in the paint, the Wolverines could look for success from the 3-point line. Michigan averages 35 percent from downtown this season, but sophomore forward Carmen Reynolds shoots 44 percent from beyond the arc and could be a major weapon for the Wolverines tonight if the Spartans force them out of the paint.
But as for stopping the Spartans’ attack in the middle and on the perimeter, Michigan will need to play tight man-to-man defense to prevent a sweep for the second-straight year at the hands of its intrastate rival.
“That’s going to be our key,” Phillips said. “You’re responsible for your person and that’s your job, and if you get your job done and all of the five players get their jobs done, then we will get a job done.”
As long as the Wolverines stay on the ball, adapt when necessary and prevent Michigan State from gaining momentum, they could avoid being swept by a Big Ten team for the third time this season.