Michigan vs. Michigan State: Players Who Will Decide Outcome

Lee SchechterContributor IIIFebruary 12, 2013

Freshman forward Mitch McGary is as intense as it gets, and the Wolverines will need him Tuesday night against the Spartans.
Freshman forward Mitch McGary is as intense as it gets, and the Wolverines will need him Tuesday night against the Spartans.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan and Michigan State face off for their first ever meeting while both teams are ranked within the Top 10.

It does not get better than this.  

With the Wolverines coming off of a tough loss to Wisconsin at the hands of guard Ben Brust's half-court heave to force overtime, they are hungry to beat their bitter in-state rival.  

Meanwhile, the Spartans are tied at the top of the Big Ten standings with Indiana and want to separate themselves from Michigan.  Michigan fell one game behind with the loss to Wisconsin.  

Both teams want to assert their power in the Big Ten, so this game has big implications.

Who will step up and decide the outcome of this marquee rivalry-week matchup?


1. Freshman guard Nik Stauskas, Michigan 

Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. are expected to continue the trend and play their best basketball, but Michigan's dynamic backcourt needs help from its young players. 

Enter Nik Stauskas.  

Stauskas is Michigan's premier three-point shooter who also has the ability to get to the hole. 

But, in Michigan's three losses, Stauskas has shot a mere 25 percent from three-point land which is far below his season average of 47.6 percent.

Stauskas has to shake off the nerves and play his best basketball for Michigan to pick up a big win on the road.  

Rivalry week is about momentum, and basketball is a game of runs. 

In the hostile environment of the Breslin Center, the Wolverines need the big shot to fall from Stauskas to silence the crowd and swing momentum to the maize and blue.  


2.  Freshman guard Gary Harris, Michigan State

Michigan State has a solid backcourt made up of guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris.

Appling lives on the dribble drive, and Harris is on the receiving end of the kickouts.  

Harris has put up 14-plus points in three of his last four games, and the Spartans will need him to go shot-for-shot with the Wolverines' Burke, Hardaway Jr. and Stauskas.  He has also shot an astounding 53.8 percent on three-pointers in that four-game stretch.  

In a game where Michigan's guards garner a lot of the attention, the Spartans have a strong pair of guards, and Harris will have to step up and knock down threes to keep pace with Michigan's high-octane offense. 


3. Freshman forward Mitch McGary, Michigan 

With center Jordan Morgan's status still in doubt with an ankle injury, the Wolverines need McGary to continue with his high level of play. 

McGary brings intense energy to the team both on and off the floor.  

He has also won back-to-back Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors.  

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, "McGary averaged 13 points, 7 rebounds and 3.5 steals in a win over Ohio State and a loss at Wisconsin last week.  Over his last five games, McGary is averaging 9.6 points and 8 rebounds for the Wolverines (21-3, 8-3). He also logged a season-high 32 minutes in the loss at Wisconsin."

McGary is the key for Michigan and will bring his A-game to the Breslin Center on Tuesday night.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the freshmen in Tuesday's rivalry game.  

While it is a tough game on the road (Michigan State has won 19 of the last 25 meetings between these two teams), the Wolverines' freshmen combination of Robinson III, Stauskas and McGary will help them to prevail and pick up the huge road win.