No extra motiviation is needed when Michigan and Michigan State meet. The fact both are ranked -- the Wolverines are No. 19 and Michigan State No. 9 -- and coming off stinging road losses to unranked conference rivals just add to the importance.
The Wolverines are coming off a season in which they swept the Spartans, a memory that sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. said is his fondest in college basketball. But if the Wolverines are hoping to extend that streak, here are three keys they'll need to focus on in Tuesday's matchup.
1. Freshman point guard Trey Burke needs to stay on the floor. Teams have figured it out: In Big Ten play, Michigan needs Burke on the floor. Without Hardaway Jr. or senior guard Zack Novak, the Wolverines are down. Without Burke, Michigan is as good as out. There is no backup on this team who can manage the offense as well as Burke or a player that keeps the Wolverines playing in transition and getting those easy buckets. That was shown in the Iowa game. He'll have a solid matchup with sophomore guard Keith Appling, but just as he was psyched to play against Wisconsin senior point guard Jordan Taylor, he should be ready to play against Appling.
2. Play team defense. The Wolverines struggled against the Hawkeyes defensively. Michigan coach John Beilein said they were a step slow. And because of that they gave up 75 points -- the most they've given up in the conference season. Northwestern allowed Appling to score 17 points and senior forward Draymond Green to score 14, but past that, the Wildcats contained the Spartans pretty well. Appling and Green are going to get theirs against Michigan, but the Wolverines need to make sure no one else does. And to do that, they need to stay on their feet, play solid help defense and not pick up silly fouls.
3. Breathe. They're coming off a pretty bad loss and playing in one of their marque matchups of the season, so if the Wolverines want their best shot at this game, they need to remember to relax. If they come out too stiff or too loose, they'll put themselves in a hole that will be difficult to claw out of. If Novak and fellow senior Stu Douglass can keep the younger Wolverines levelheaded and relaxed for tip-off and through the game, they can play their brand of basketball, rather than playing catch-up against a more experience Spartans group.