Much has been made over the years about the basketball rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State, even though they have never met in the Big Ten tournament.
That will change in Sunday's championship game in Indianapolis, as the No. 22 Spartans look to avenge two regular-season defeats to the eighth-ranked Wolverines.
There's no better person to discuss this evolving rivalry than Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, a lifelong resident of the state who has been at his school since he began as Jud Heathcote's assistant back in 1983.
"Well, we've gone through a lot of things over my 20, 25 years, I think, of being an assistant and then a head coach," Izzo said. "I think when Jud was here, it ended up pretty even, wins and losses. Then we went through the Fab Five era and then I took over and got my tail kicked for quite a while. And then we did some kicking."
Izzo's club owned this state rivalry by winning 14 of 17 matchups before John Beilein took over at Michigan in 2007. The Spartans continued their dominance by winning the first four versus Beilein, but his Wolverines have claimed six of the last eight meetings and nearly won the national title last year.
That has only intensified the thirst for this matchup.
"I'm not going to get into whether we like them or they like us or whatever because I always get asked that," Izzo said. "But there's a respectful rivalry now because both teams are good and both teams are playing for a lot."
Michigan (25-7) got 19 points apiece from Big Ten player of the year Nik Stauskas and Derrick Walton Jr. in an 80-75 win at Michigan State (25-8) on Jan. 25. The Spartans played without the injured Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.
Payne was back but Dawson was not in Michigan State's 79-70 loss at Michigan in the Feb. 23 rematch. Stauskas scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half as the Wolverines shot 50.0 percent overall for the highest mark all season against the Spartans.
That kind of shooting was on display Saturday, as Michigan finished at 53.2 percent in a 72-69 win over No. 24 Ohio State. Stauskas scored 18 points and made four 3-pointers, as the Wolverines sank 12 of 23 from long range.
"We've got six of our eight that play can make 3s," Beilein said. "And, as a result, when you have that many guys and pretty much they have different green lights, but they have green lights. So when they're shooting it well, we can spread people out."
The Wolverines have been without the injured Mitch McGary since Dec. 14 and will get their first look this season at Dawson, who is rounding into form with 30 points on 14-of-20 shooting in two games in this tournament.
"I'm very excited to be given a chance just to play against these guys," Dawson said. "Just sitting out watching those two games, I felt like I could have helped out a lot."
Payne scored 18 to lead six Michigan State players in double digits in points in Saturday's 83-75 win over No. 12 Wisconsin.
Spartans star guard Gary Harris is averaging 20.3 points in four career games against the Wolverines - 24.0 this season.
Michigan State is 3-0 in Big Ten title games while Michigan won in its lone appearance in the inaugural 1998 contest.
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