At first glance, it would appear that Michigan coach Kevin Borseth and Michigan State coach Suzy Merchant have nothing in common.
Compared to Borseth, known for fiery antics on the sidelines and constant conversation with the scorer’s table, Merchant is quiet as a hummingbird.
After her Spartans lost, 64-55, to Michigan earlier this month, Merchant looked as if she was close to bursting into tears. When Borseth lost last Sunday to Iowa, he stubbornly addressed the press.
“You’re the ones writing the articles, not me,” Borseth said. “You already got your titles picked out, so let’s get a start to it.”
Although their personalities differ, both coaches have taken similar paths to the Big Ten and have encountered each other several times along the way.
Both started their college coaching careers at Division II schools. Borseth’s Michigan Tech Huskies often faced off against Merchant’s Lake Superior State Lakers in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
In 1998, both coaches made their move to Division I – Borseth to University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and Merchant to Eastern Michigan.
While at Green Bay, Borseth’s Phoenix played Merchant’s Eagles twice. Borseth’s record against his counterpart in Ypsilanti: 2-0.
After nine years among the mid-majors, Borseth and Merchant were hired to coach rival Big Ten teams.
Borseth came on to turn around a Wolverine team that had 21 wins in the previous three seasons. Merchant, on the other hand, took over a team that had 24 wins last season. She replaced Joanne McCallie, who bolted to Duke last spring.
Through the years, Merchant has always impressed Borseth.
“She adapts to situations really well,” Borseth said. “She studies videotapes, sees what you do and is not afraid to make changes to her game plan.”
To take down the Wolverines tonight at the Breslin Center, Merchant will have to adapt her strategy from her team’s disappointing performance Jan. 13 at Crisler.
In that game, Michigan held the Spartan’s lanky 6-foot-9 Allyssa DeHaan to nine points and six rebounds. On offense, the Wolverines were able to pull DeHaan away from the basket by bringing sophomore Krista Phillips out of the paint.
“They’re not going to allow that to happen,” Borseth said. “I believe they’re going to play a zone.”
Michigan State is optimistic going into tonight’s contest because of the return of junior guard Mia Johnson, who played just two minutes on Jan. 13 while still recovering from a knee injury. Last Thursday, Johnson went for 20 points in a win against Illinois.
With Johnson returning to form and Merchant likely to rework her game plan, Borseth doesn’t quite know what he has waiting for him at the Breslin Center.
“It will be a lot different than the last time we played them,” Borseth said.
But Borseth has been able to handle Merchant’s challenges through the years.
Borseth’s record against the coach in East Lansing is unblemished in Division I: 3-0.
Michigan at Michigan State
Matchup: Michigan State 12-10; Michigan 12-7
When: 7 P.M.
Where: Breslin Center
TV/Radio: AM 1290