Well, it”s that time once again. Wednesday night, the Wolverines take on Michigan State at the Breslin Center where Michigan has lost the past two games by a combined 72 points.
The Spartans have thrashed Michigan in the teams” past seven meetings, representing the longest one-sided streak in the rivalry since the Wolverines beat Michigan State 12 straight times from 1921-1927 by such scores as 17-10, 19-17 and 23-19.
Due to an “administrative oversight,” Wednesday”s game will be the only time Michigan meets the Spartans this season, and the first time in 32 years that the Spartans don”t travel to Crisler Arena.
Michigan and Michigan State don”t always have a guaranteed second game due to the revolving Big Ten schedule implemented after the Big Ten changed from an 18-game schedule to 16, when Penn State joined the conference. The two schools could have played each other in a nonconference game at Crisler, but Michigan Associate Athletic Director Warde Manuel said that both sides realized late last summer that neither school had the scheduling room for an extra game.
Given the painful experiences the past few years with the Spartans, one could guess why Michigan happened to “forget” its intrastate rival. Michigan State (along with its fans) have made a strong case for “owning” Crisler in recent years. The Spartans have embarrassed Michigan on its home floor the past three seasons winning by an average of 20 points and bringing enough fans to each game to qualify it as a quasi-home game.
But things have changed for both programs. So much so that this Wednesday”s game marks the best chance in years for Michigan to dethrone the Big Green Machine.
Too bad it”s the Wolverines” only shot.
“I really wish that we did have them at Crisler this year,” said senior tri-captain Chris Young, who admitted that barring an NCAA Tournament run, his career would be incomplete without beating the Spartans at least once. “I think it”s kind of unfair that we only have one opportunity to play them again.”
Especially with the Spartans as troubled as they are.
Injuries and the NBA Draft have left Michigan State coach Tom Izzo with just seven healthy scholarship players. And if forward Jason Andreas” heavily bruised pelvis bone keeps him on the bench, that makes it six.
Michigan coach Tommy Amaker chooses to play former walk-ons Izzo is forced to.
Suddenly, a perennial Final Four team and owner of four-straight Big Ten titles has just as many football players (freshmen Aaron Alexander and Robert Strickland) practicing with them as Big Ten wins. Right now mighty Michigan State is actually looking up at the Wolverines in the conference standings
So Michigan has one more win in conference, but that”s not the only reason why even Michigan players themselves feel that their one and only meeting with the Spartans this Wednesday is their best shot at turning things around.
After last year”s 27-point loss to the Spartans at Crisler, Young said that he “could hardly show his face” in Crisler and just wished he could “go hide under his bed.”
This time, he”s singing a different tune.
“I like our chances,” Young said. “Regardless of what”s going on with them with injuries”
There”s a renewed sense of confidence for the Wolverines and a fresh feeling of “starting over” has immersed itself among everyone inside Tommy Amaker”s new Michigan program. Players insist “last season was last season” and times have changed.
“It”s two different teams now,” Bernard Robinson said. “So we”ll see what happens when the ball goes up.”
Come tipoff on Wednesday night, Michigan will not be facing the daunting task of upsetting a far more talented group of Spartans in an intimidating road environment.
No more Jason Richardson. No more Zach Randolph. And thank God, no more Mateen Cleaves.
But more importantly, no more nation-leading 53-game home unbeaten streak to contend with. That intimidation factor ended on Jan. 12, when Wisconsin stole one from the Sparties. Even Izzo admitted that loss also tarnished Breslin”s mystique.
“There”s a chink in the armor now,” said Izzo after the Wisconsin loss.
Instead of facing NBA talent and a heralded streak at Breslin, Michigan will deal with manageable issues like rebounding and penetration.
That”s a good reason why Michigan players “like their chances.”
After all, the new Breslin streak is just one.
Michigan has won two straight at Crisler.
It”s a shame one more can”t come against Michigan State.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.