Dickinson vs. Izzo, So Long Bubble and No Fastbreak; Three Takeaways from Michigan’s Victory
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Most of the University of Michigan students are currently away on spring break, which meant the atmosphere for Tuesday’s rivalry matchup between the Michigan Wolverines (16-12, 10-8 Big Ten) and the Michigan State Spartans (19-10, 10-8 Big Ten) was a bit more low-key in the stands than usual. At times, the number of Spartan fans that made the journey to Ann Arbor gave the Crisler Center a neutral court feel.
However, that was not the case on the floor. Michigan’s sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo provided all the fireworks we are accustomed to in this heated in-state rivalry.
Read about that and more on Michigan’s critical 87-70 win over their rivals from East Lansing.
Dickinson and Izzo Go At It
There was no doubt who the best player on the floor was on Tuesday; that honor goes to Hunter Dickinson, who carved up the Spartans’ defense for a career-high 33 points on 13-of-19 shooting from the field.
Michigan State double-teamed him at times, but for the most part, Tom Izzo stuck to man-to-man defense with his bigs on Dickinson. That simply did not work, as Dickinson was able to take advantage of the smaller defenders seemingly every time he found a one-on-one matchup.
Dickinson was amped up all night, and he was not afraid to show it. After many of his buckets, he made sure the Michigan State bench, and specifically Izzo, knew the guys getting matched up on the big man down low were just not big enough to guard him. After a while, Izzo had enough, and he stepped in to make sure the refs were aware of what was going on.
Acting Head Coach Phil Martelli said the refs spoke with him about it, and he told Dickinson to stop directing his emotions that way and focus them on the game itself. For Dickinson, getting under his opponent’s skin was his goal, as he made clear when he asked if he was effective in that role during the game.
“Yeah, yeah I did,” said Dickinson. “I remember after the game at Michigan State, Coach Izzo had a lot to say to me, a lot of good things. After this game, he didn’t say anything.”
After the game, Martelli joked that his big man has a future in the sports entertainment world, even if basketball doesn’t work out.
“If it does not work out in basketball, I dare any of you to deny me this fact: he will be a WWE villain,” said Martelli. “He won’t be a good guy, but he’ll be a villain.”
To be a villain, you have to enjoy the role of the villain. And as Martelli said, there is little question of whether that would work for Hunter. When asked if he was surprised by the one-on-one looks he got all night, a grin came across the big man’s face.
“I kind of like it, I’m not going lie,” said Dickinson. “I appreciate it if anything.”
Michigan Stops MSU’s Fastbreak
There is no secret to MSU’s game; head coach Tom Izzo wants a tough defense to get stops and start the fast break. That has been his formula for success, and MSU has been very successful because of it. Look no further than MSU’s last win over Michigan on January 29, where the Spartans racked up 29 fastbreak points en route to the 83-67 win.
Filling in for suspended head coach Juwan Howard, Associate Head Coach Phil Martelli knew his team’s focus had to be on stopping MSU in transition on Tuesday if they wanted any chance of winning. He said it was the focal point of their Monday practice.
“If I had my notes I would show it to you, (transition) was number one, it was number two and number three,” said Martelli. “The only thing we did live yesterday was we put the ball on the baseline, then we sprint back. All five guys sprint back, get in a wall, and stop the ball.”
That extra focus helped as they limited MSU to just two fastbreak points in the first half and just nine overall. But, as Martelli also pointed out, a big reason for the Spartans’ lack of fastbreak opportunities was Michigan’s ability to knock down shots.
“One of the great transition defensive portions of our game was the ball went in the basket,” said Martelli. “We shot 61% in the first half, so they are taking the ball out of the net.”
Michigan knocked down 32 of their 55 shots from the field and 7 of their 12 shots from three-point range (58% from each). Meanwhile, MSU shot just 27-for-59 from the field (46%) and 5-for-16 from three (31%).
Bubble No More?
Outside of the rivalry talk, the main concern in the Michigan press room, and seemingly the locker room, was the effect the win had on Michigan’s NCAA Tournament resume. When asked if he felt the need to get amped up for this game to build momentum, Dickinson was honest with his approach.
“It’s starting to get close to not having many opportunities to amp up and get ready for the end of the season,” said Dickinson.
According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Michigan was on the fringe of the tournament before last night, right on the edge of the ‘Last Four Byes’ and ‘Last Four In’ group. After the win, Michigan sits on top of the ‘Last Four Byes’ group, meaning the Wolverines are almost off the bubble entirely, according to Lunardi.
The win puts Michigan in a great position to make the tournament with their remaining schedule. While their last two regular-season games are against ranked opponents (vs. No. 24 Iowa, at No. 23 Ohio State), a win in either game should clinch a sixth straight NCAA Tournament Bid for the program, tied for the ninth-longest active streak.
Even with a loss in their final two games, a win in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament would likely be enough, if the win over MSU isn’t enough already.