By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (CBS DETROIT) – While Michigan State coach Tom Izzo always hypes up the rivalry game between the Spartans and the Wolverines, Michigan coach John Beilein takes a more measured approach.
During a media availability session on Friday, Beilein said he expected players to get up for games the same way every time. That said, he knows the Wolverines need some extra toughness down the stretch to have a chance Saturday in Breslin Center, where Michigan State beat Michigan 75-52 last year.
As sophomore guard Nik Stauskas put it Wednesday, “They punked us.”
Much has been made about the atmosphere of Breslin, the amount of racket the Michigan State crowd generates. Beilein, though, is more impressed by the Spartans themselves than by the noise their fans contribute.
“They’re strong,” Beilein said. “They really have a great plan of playing physical basketball and just do it really well, and so if our guys back down from that, we’ll do like we did last year. We cannot back down to that.”
Staying aggressive against the Michigan State defense could be easier said than done. The Spartans, who have lost just one game this season, rank 11th nationally in field goal percentage defense, allowing opponents to make just 37.9 percent of their shots.
“The defensive numbers are staggering, how good they are,” Beilein said. “We’re trying to find weak links to attack. We can’t find them. They’re just good.”
The Spartans will likely be missing two key players – Adreian Payne, who has missed the last four games with a foot injury, and Branden Dawson, who broke his hand this week when he slammed it on a table in frustration during film study.
Payne is the team’s second-leading scorer (16.2 points per game) and rebounder (7.7 boards per game). Dawson, the team’s leading rebounder with 8.7 boards on average, was also turning in 10.2 points per game. Beilein is not convinced those losses will hamper the Spartans.
“If they put [Denzel] Valentine as a four man, then they’ll be quick as heck all over the place,” Beilein said. “They’re not the post-up team they’ve been in the past, so as a result they may be really good playing small. I think they have been. Whatever five players they put out on the floor, they’re going to be good.”
When the Wolverines lost in a blowout in Breslin last season, one of the factors was foul trouble for star Trey Burke, who has since left for the NBA. Just like Michigan could not afford foul trouble then, Beilein said the Wolverines cannot go deep into their bench now.
“We can’t,” Beilein said. “There’s not a whole lot of depth in there … I think when you’re deep in your bench, it’s 10, 11, 12. Those guys won’t be out there.”
The spark plug for Michigan, particularly in Wednesday’s win over No. 10 Iowa, has been Stauskas. He scored 26 against the Hawkeyes, punctuating each made three by holding up three fingers, and he made baskets at all the critical moments. Michigan expects Stauskas to get extra attention from defenders and has tried to prepare accordingly for how teams may play him physically to try to throw him off his game.
“We try to simulate that,” Beilein said. “We haven’t seen it in a little bit, though, so I don’t know how good we would be at it, but we try to simulate that and find ways where we can get him into his sweet spots. If they do that, I’m sure they’ll be one of the better teams to do it. We’ll have to find other ways to get him points and get the rest of the team points.”