The stakes will be a lot higher Tuesday night.
In the first matchup where these bitter rivals are among the top 10, the No. 4 Wolverines will try to stay within striking distance of the Big Ten lead by winning for just the second time in 14 road meetings with the eighth-ranked Spartans.
Michigan State (20-4, 9-2 Big Ten) has enjoyed a strong hold on its rivalry with Michigan (21-3, 8-3), winning 19 of the past 25 meetings, and both rivals have been ranked in only three of those matchups.
That includes the most recent meeting in East Lansing on Feb. 5, 2012, when the then-ninth-ranked Spartans dispatched the then-No. 23 Wolverines 64-54 for their 12th win in 13 meetings there.
This is the first matchup since Jan. 10, 1998, Michigan is ranked higher in the AP poll than Michigan State.
“I don’t feel threatened,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told the team’s official website. “I think it’s the way it’s supposed to be, the way it should be and I think the good news is; I don’t think we’ve really come down much - we’ve maintained something for 16 years now, and that’s pretty tough to do.”
“When I first got here one of the things that people were talking about was Michigan-Michigan State,” said Wolverines coach John Beilein, who is in his sixth season. “I said ‘wouldn’t it be great if both teams could be really, really good?’ I think we’ve moved more in that direction, and they’ve certainly have been that way for a long time.”
Michigan squandered a chance to forge a three-way tie atop the Big Ten on Saturday, losing 65-62 in overtime at Wisconsin while shooting 39.4 percent from the floor and 5 for 18 from behind the arc.
On the season, the Wolverines are second in the conference with 49.8 percent shooting, and 40.7 from long range.
“You can’t go up there and play an average game,” Beilein said. “You have to have things happen, and they have to play not their best game. I think we’ve shown this year that we’re capable of playing at a very high level with some very good teams.”
Trey Burke is certainly proving that, averaging 18.2 points to rank second in the Big Ten. However, he struggled to get to 19 on Saturday, hitting 8 of 21 from the field - 2 of 8 from 3-point range.
The sophomore was limited to 11 points at Michigan State last season, while fellow guard Tim Hardaway Jr. managed four on 1 for 10 shooting.
Hardaway enters this matchup hot from beyond the arc, connecting on 10 of 17 attempts while averaging 19.7 points over the past three games.
“They are solid in just about every position and it should make for a heckuva game,” Izzo said. “I think it’s fun to actually feel like the game matters in every way, shape or form both locally and nationally, and I’m not sure that’s happened since I’ve been here.
The Spartans have won 32 of 33 at the Breslin Center, including all 14 this season while outscoring opponents by an average of 17.2 points and holding them to 34.9 percent shooting.
They extended their overall winning streak to three games with Saturday’s 78-65 victory at Purdue.
Keith Appling seemed to put a shoulder injury behind him, scoring 17 points, but freshman guard Gary Harris managed eight in 24 minutes as he attempts to move past back spasms. The guard averaged 16.7 points over the previous three games.
These teams meet again in Ann Arbor on March 2.