The University of Michigan and Michigan State University basketball teams have fought for control of the state for the past six years.
Since 2013, MSU leads the rivalry nine games to six, but both teams have had an astounding amount of success. Michigan has battled all the way to the National Championship twice since 2013 and once in 2018, and MSU made it to the Final Four last March. With MSU ranked third nationally and U of M undefeated to start the season, this should be a great year of basketball for the state of Michigan.
The world stood in shock in May of this year as the head coach of Michigan’s basketball team, John Beilein, announced he was leaving Michigan to coach in the NBA. Fans and analysts everywhere were buzzing about how much of a toll this would take on a Michigan program that had been thriving since the arrival of Beilein, who boasted a 278-150 positive record.
Even I thought Michigan would take a step back to rebuild under new coach Juwan Howard. But Michigan has looked deadly so far. Michigan is out to a 3-0 hot start, and the Wolverines don’t even have their best player yet.
Franz Wagner, the younger brother of Moe Wagner, has been out with a fractured wrist since just before the season started. Franz could be back as early as Dec. 3 – if the prognosis of 4-6 weeks for his recovery is correct. It just so happens that Michigan takes on the second best team in the nation, Louisville, that day.
This would make for a prime time debut, as one of Michigan’s biggest weaknesses is the wing position. Franz can come in and score with the best of them with a smooth jump shot and solid intangibles. I believe Michigan cannot hit its peak potential without Franz, and the team will have some future struggles without him.
Michigan State, on the other hand, looks like a deep, solid juggernaut coached by arguably the best coach in college basketball, Tom Izzo. While Michigan has looked solid to start the year, MSU looks like a different beast. It’s no wonder Michigan State was ranked the best team in college basketball at the beginning of the year.
Returning almost the entire team that made the Final Four run last year, including Big Ten Player of The Year Cassius Winston, makes MSU a heavy favorite to win it all this year. Izzo will have this team running like a well-oiled machine come March and barring injuries. The Spartans are a very deep squad.
However, they aren’t unbeatable. Michigan State lost its first game of the year against Kentucky, and a few flaws were noticeable. Freshman Rocket Watts looked sometimes lost on the court, and the Spartans have gone through some tough shooting droughts.
Teams are going to be able to exploit that, which could put the Spartans behind at crucial points in games. Still, I believe Izzo can have those flaws patched up pretty easily. I think they’ll look like a completely different team by as early as mid-January, which is scary for the rest of the nation.
Overall, both major Michigan basketball teams look set to take on another year of college basketball madness. If Franz comes back and is the monster he should be, then there’s no reason U of M shouldn’t be a contender for the Big Ten and be a sleeper pick for a March Madness run.
However, MSU is a surefire contender. If Izzo coaches this team to its highest potential, MSU will no doubt still be playing in April.
It might only be the third week of college basketball, but one thing is true: It’s good to be a fan of Michigan’s college basketball teams right now.