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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 25, 2014 at 7:00 AM

ESPN knew they would at least be locked into a high profile rivalry game when they scheduled Michigan at Michigan State for their GameDay spotlight. Instead, they lucked into one of the biggest college basketball games in all of January! Two national powers who are still UNDEFEATED in the toughest league in the land will square off in a game that will certainly have a March Madness feel to it.

*Michigan reached the finals of the Big Dance last year. They’re currently once again in championship form after some early season toe-stubbings against quality opponents like Arizona, Duke, and Iowa State. In Big 10 action, they’ve won as road underdogs over Minnesota and Wisconsin. Then, their last time out, they handled Iowa…a team many pundits were insisting was actually the best in the league (maybe not!).

*Michigan State was on the short list before the season began of potential Final Four teams. They’re still there! They’ve only lost one game all season, a shocker at the hands of feast-or-famine North Carolina. They’ve had it relatively easy in Big 10 play though. Their toughest opponents had to visit East Lansing. And, Ohio State turned out to be not as good as everyone was thinking (a team MSU had to go OT to defeat). State will be seriously challenged often over the next few weeks. Saturday Night’s game with the Wolverines will tell us exactly where they stand.

Let’s go to JIM HURLEY’S standard indicator stats. You’ll see that college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy and USA Today computer whiz Jeff Sagarin have this as an Elite Eight caliber game!


Computer Rankings

Michigan: #10 in Pomeroy, #8 in Sagarin

Mich. State: #8 in Pomeroy, #2 in Sagarin

Michigan State is #2 with Sagarin nationally, and this is a team that typically closes a season better than they start it. Both men have Michigan much higher than the polls do. Sportswriters tend to rank the records, and Michigan did fall to a few powers. Computers adjust for schedule strength. The see the Wolverines as a true force in the Big 10 the whole season through. Ridiculous that the AP doesn’t even have Michigan in the top 20.


Offensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

Michigan: #3

Mich. State: #26

As was the case last year, Michigan’s offense is much better than everyone realizes. MUCH! They play a slow style, but are very efficient on a per-possession basis within that style. They get open looks. They draw fouls. That’s the main reason they almost cut down the nets last season. Michigan State is strong here as well. It’s easy to see this as a smash mouth rivalry because of each team’s physicality. It’s not defense first by any means.


Defensive Rank (Adjusted for Schedule)

Michigan: #46

Mich. State: #10

Michigan State has the better defense, which could help them even more at home because good defense tend to get respect from the referees in front of friendly crowds. Michigan grades out well nationally, when you’re looking at more than 300 teams. But, once you get down to the true elites of the sport, #46 really isn’t very good defensively. It’s “good enough” when you have a great offense though.


Pace Ranking

Michigan: #305

Mich. State: #152

This is what we mean about Michigan’s pace. They’re very slow with the ball, but they execute well why disrupting faster opponents with the slow-down game. Michigan State is nice and balanced, and can move up or down if need be depending on the opponent. In the big picture, the Spartans are more flexible, which serves them well against various challenges. But, big games tend to slow down, which plays into the hands of Michigan. Given the fact that home teams tend to have a better chance of enforcing their preferred tempo on a game, this category probably favors the Spartans Saturday Night.


Against the Spread

Michigan: 9-6-1

Mich. State: 10-6-1

Both teams were highly regarded in the preseason polls. Yet, both have managed to exceed high expectations on a fairly regular basis. That’s 19-12-2 combined, which is better than a 60% success rate. Michigan’s early troubles tricked oddsmakers (and the pollsters). Michigan State’s just flat good enough to play well on a consistent basis. Saturday’s game will obviously be a split (or a push). Let’s see if those trends for success hold up down the road in league action.

JIM HURLEY will very likely have something for his clients in this game. Maybe it’s a major release. Maybe it’s part of a TV parlay. The Saturday schedule is ENORMOUS, offering big play opportunities all over the slate. You’ll be able to purchase the final word for Saturday in college and pro basketball right here at the website with your credit card. Check in a few hours before first tip. If you have any questions about basketball season programs, or combination packages that would include the Super Bowl, call us in the office Saturday morning at 1-888-777-4155.

Back with you Sunday to look at California/UCLA, a big game in the Pac 12 race as contenders try to chase down Arizona from behind. Monday will bring Duke at Pittsburgh on ESPN’s Big Monday, the first ACC meeting between those basketball powers. Stay with us throughout the winter for helpful handicapping information. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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