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March 6, 2010

A meaningful rivalry with title on line for Michigan State

EAST LANSING - According to Spartan junior Chris Allen nothing gives a team swagger like winning a Big Ten game on the road. And nothing feels worse than losing a game at home.

During the 2009-2010 season, Michigan State has had more than its share of Big Ten road wins. In fact, the Spartans have on several occasions played better away from the Breslin Center than they have on home turf. Michigan State has also had a couple of heartbreaking home defeats, including losses to Purdue and Ohio State.

Those losses to the Boilermakers and Buckeyes were painful. But neither of those setbacks would compare to a loss to Michigan on Sunday. With a win, Michigan State can claim the a share of Tom Izzo's sixth league title. A loss would put the Spartans one game behind Ohio State and Purdue in the final Big Ten standings.

Allen believes that his team gets complacent at home because they feel that the atmosphere and energy at the Breslin Center will carry them through.

"When we are here, we have adrenaline and we are ready," Allen explained. "but I guess we get complacent and feel like we are at home and it is going to be given to us."

Allen believes that everybody on the Spartan basketball team needs to realize that teams coming to the Breslin Center are not traveling to East Lansing to lose. If anything, says Allen, teams playing on the road are often capable of playing their 'A' game because they know that executing their gameplan and bringing their best effort is the only way to defeat a league foe in their house.

"It is the other way around," said Allen. "I know that when we go other places we are definitely trying to beat them at their home because it is total disrespect to beat somebody at their own home. It is like if you are playing video games at your house and you lose, you'd be ready to fight if you lost at your house. You'd be ready to kick them out. It could be your best friend, but you'd be ready for them to go."

Michigan has never been a good friend to Michigan State. But the Wolverines would like nothing more than to prevent Michigan State from winning a second straight Big Ten title, something Michigan has been unable to achieve since 1986.

Like most rivalry games, the winner of the Michigan State-Michigan game will likely be determined by the effort-related areas that don't show up in box scores.

"They are going to come in playing hard," said Spartan sophomore Draymond Green, who is playing his best basketball in the last two games. "It is probably not going to come down to X's and O's. It is going to come down to who wants it more."

Few players want it more than Green, who has been one of the best clutch players in the Big Ten as Green. The 6-foot-6, Spartan captain has always taken pride in his ability to elevate his play with the game on the line. Since Michigan State fell out of first-place in the conference standings with their loss to Ohio State, Green has taken his game up a notch.

In back-to-back wins over Penn State and Purdue, Green has been phenomenal. The former Saginaw star has made 11 of 20 from the field and averaged a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds per game. Green has also averaged three assists per game during the last two games. The primary beneficiary of Green's ball skills has been Raymar Morgan. The two-man game between Morgan and Green has been the bread-and-butter for Michigan State down the stretch.

"I think we have been playing pretty good together in the middle," said Green. "We've both been crashing the boards and I think it is working pretty well for us."

Like Travis Walton and Goran Suton last year, Morgan is feeling the type of urgency that seniors experience when their college careers are beginning to wind down. The four-year starter believes that taking his game up a notch is the only avenue available to him if he wants his Spartan career to last well into March.

"I think you have to (elevate your game)," said Morgan, "Just being a senior and being in my last couple of games here. You have to."

Morgan just achieved the career milestone of scoring 1,500 points and registering 700 rebounds, something only four other players in Spartan basketball history have accomplished. But Morgan, who also ranks seventh in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (53.1) wants nothing more than to lead his team to a second straight Big Ten title.

GREEN AND MORGAN WILL BE KEY AGAINST WOLVERINES

When Michigan State faced Michigan in Ann Arbor, an offensive rebound by Green on a missed 3-pointer by Durrell Summers and subsequent pass to Morgan led to a pivotal field goal that set the table for Lucas' game-winner.

Morgan scored a game-high 20 points against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor and Green added 10 points with 7 rebounds. Despite the 30 points and 15 rebounds between the two Spartan forwards, Michigan was able to muddy up the two-man game between Morgan and Green.

In fact, an inability to get the ball inside from the high post led to Lucas' suggestion to use him to attack the seams in the Michigan defense. Green committed an uncharacteristic four turnovers with just one assist in Ann Arbor.

Neither Morgan nor Green appear concerned with their inability to feed the post at times against Michigan.

"We are going to have to watch film and tweak some things," said Green.
Morgan believes his team will continue to attack the Michigan zone passing out of the high post.

"Our plan is to attack like we always attack," Morgan said. "We are going to attack until they stop it. That is our game plan, we are going to stick with it and hopefully it works."

REPEAT OFFENDERS

For most of their game with Penn State, the Spartans executed their game plan well enough to be in a position to pull away from their opponents. But costly turnovers and untimely miscues played as big a role in Michigan State's inability to step on Penn State's throat as some of the big shots and plays made by the Nittany Lions.

Similar miscues nearly cost Michigan State in their first meeting with Michigan. Spartan miscues led to a decrease in possessions against the Wolverines, who made every effort to shorten the game by milking the clock and limiting Michigan State scoring opportunities.

The Spartans made up for their turnovers by dominating the glass.

Cleaning up unforced errors, sloppy turnovers, and effort-related miscues would go a long way toward Michigan State taking the necessary steps to claim a share of the conference crown.

Michigan State has committed 10 or fewer turnovers in 9 of their 10 games leading up to the Big Ten finale. But even though Michigan State has improved in that area, the Spartans are still making costly mental mistakes during crucial moments in the game.

Every team has a miscue now and then, but Michigan State cannot afford to have its best players making mistakes in crunch time.

HARRIS AND SIMS STILL THE FOCAL POINT

Michigan is coming off an impressive win over Minnesota in which the Wolverines shot 60 percent from the floor and 46 percent from 3-point range.

Against Minnesota, the Wolverines received contributions from several of their role players, who have often been missing in action during a season which began with the Wolverines ranked in the Top 15.

For their part, however, the Spartans will channel much of their defensive game plan into slowing down the two-headed monster of DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris.

The Spartans played Harris and Sims well when the two teams met in Ann Arbor. In the second meeting, the Spartan need to continue to limit the production of the two Wolverine stars. Michigan State also needs to limit the open perimeter looks of Wolverine sharpshooters like Zack Novak and Stu Douglass.



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