ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP)—Michigan State has had its way with Michigan on the basketball court, winning 16 of the last 19 games in the series.
Spartans coach Tom Izzo, who often lost to the Wolverines as an assistant and early on as a head coach, insisted he still gets fired up about the rivalry.
“I’m motivated by the fact that every alum in this country is motivated by it,” Izzo said Monday. “I’m motivated by it because it stands in the way of us hopefully getting our goals at the end of the year.
“People ask, `Is he as passionate about it? Does he hate them as much?’ The answer is yes to all those things.”
The fifth-ranked Spartans (17-3, 7-0) have matched the best Big Ten start in school history, are aiming to repeat as conference champions and to win one more game than they did last season when they were runner-up to North Carolina in the national title game.
The Wolverines (10-9, 3-4) are hoping to make it back to the NCAA tournament after earning the school’s first bid since 1998 last season.
A lackluster record and resume—with a lone signature win over then-No. 15 Connecticut to be proud of—has given them a slim margin for error.
“It’s almost like the old-time days in the mid-majors,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “You got to go on a big string at the end of the year or you have to peak at tournament time and win the tournament.
“Those are our two options right now.”
Beilein, though, would not say Tuesday night’s matchup at home against Michigan State was a must-win game.
“It would be wonderful and would put us in the right direction to get a win,” Beilein said. “It would really help us to beat a team that went to the Final Four and a team that can get there again if the ball bounces right.
“It would be great for us. It’s not the end of the season if we don’t.”
Michigan’s chances to pull off an upset improved when Beilein decided to reinstate star guard Manny Harris after a one-game suspension for an undisclosed incident in Friday’s practice.
Beilein said what Harris did doesn’t happen as much as it used to, but deflected questions toward a statement he made in a release announcing his decision.
“It is our hope that Manny will show tremendous growth from his suspension,” Beilein said in a statement.
Harris was not made available for comment to reporters Monday.
“I made a poor decision during Friday’s practice which I regret very much,” Harris said in a statement sent by the school.
Michigan State guard Kalin Lucas said he talked to Harris after he missed Saturday’s loss at Purdue.
“Manny is very important to them,” Lucas said. “He does a lot for them— scoring, rebounding, assists.”
Michigan forward DeShawn Sims said the team was “back to normal,” after the suspension. He knows the team has to start winning soon to avoid a disappointing finish in a season that started with it ranked No. 15 in The Associated Press poll.
“We know we have to come out every time and give our best effort or there won’t be too much of a shot for a postseason,” Sims said.