Michigan State Basketball: 5 bold predictions at Michigan

Feb 2, 2017; Lincoln, NE, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Nick Ward (44) dunks against Nebraska Cornhuskers center Jordy Tshimanga (32) in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Michigan State won 72-61. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 2, 2017; Lincoln, NE, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Nick Ward (44) dunks against Nebraska Cornhuskers center Jordy Tshimanga (32) in the second half at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Michigan State won 72-61. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan State basketball travels to Ann Arbor tonight to take on the Wolverines of Michigan and here are our bold predictions.

Five straight games in the Michigan vs. Michigan State rivalry have gone in the Spartans’ favor. They will look to make it six in a row on Tuesday night as the Spartans travel to Ann Arbor to take on a struggling Michigan squad.

Michigan is coming off a tough loss to Ohio State over the weekend and the Wolverines would do anything to take down the Spartans and put their NCAA Tournament hopes into further jeopardy. However, Michigan State is riding high after two consecutive wins and it’s starting to play like the talented team everyone expected it to be.

Who comes out on top of Tuesday night’s contest?

Here are the five bold predictions we compiled for Tuesday night’s Michigan State game against Michigan.

Dec 10, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) gets defended by Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles guard Hakeem Rogers (2) during the second half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Spartans win 71-63. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 10, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris (14) gets defended by Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles guard Hakeem Rogers (2) during the second half at Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Spartans win 71-63. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

5. Eron Harris shows up to play

Finally. Michigan State has been hoping, waiting and wishing for Eron Harris to show up to play and the senior guard will have one of his better games for the Spartans. I’m not saying he’s going to break the 20-point plateau, but he will hit the 10-point mark, at least, in this one.

That may not seem like the boldest of predictions, but Harris has only scored in double figures twice in 10 Big Ten contests. That’s a pretty crazy statistic given that he is averaging over 10 points per game on the year.

Michigan will be busy focusing on Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Miles Bridges that the Wolverines will forget about Harris on the perimeter and he will finish with three 3-pointers and 11 total points. Not a huge game, by any means, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

The real story is how he will build on this type of performance.

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Derrick Walton Jr. shoots against Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris during the first half of a game at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Derrick Walton Jr. shoots against Michigan State Spartans guard Eron Harris during the first half of a game at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

4. Derrick Walton Jr. goes off again

Derrick Walton Jr. has been on fire lately and he had a big game in the first meeting between these two teams. The senior point guard went off for 24 points and nine rebounds and looked like the only player on the team who was truly giving it his all.

Expect more of the same on Tuesday night as the senior will be forced to carry the team to victory yet again and Zak Irvin will disappear once again. He has been hot-and-cold all season long while Walton has been carrying the team so much his back probably hurts at this point.

Over the last three games, Walton Jr. is averaging 23.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He is looking like the best point guard in the conference lately and it’s no wonder he was named to the All-Big Ten team at the beginning of the year. Michigan fans didn’t want to admit he was the best player, but he’s playing like it.

The Spartans had trouble guarding him two weeks ago because he was able to slash to the basket and draw fouls from both the bigs and Tum Tum and Cassius Winston guarding him. I expect him to get to the line at a high rate yet again and finish with 26 points and eight rebounds.

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Derrick Walton Jr. (10) defends against Michigan State Spartans forward Miles Bridges (22) during the first half of a game at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Derrick Walton Jr. (10) defends against Michigan State Spartans forward Miles Bridges (22) during the first half of a game at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

3. Miles Bridges shows off with huge game

After a rocky couple of games to start Big Ten play, Miles Bridges has come back with a vengeance. He missed a month of action due to an ankle injury and he’s starting to really shake off the rust. In fact, he’s shot over 70 percent in 2-of-3 games — that’s impressive seeing as he attempted at least five 3-pointers in those contests as well.

Bridges has the confidence necessary to go into an opposing team’s building and put on a show, and he will do just that on Tuesday. He’s going to silence the Michigan crowd with some huge dunks early on and he will ice the game with big 3-pointers late in the second half.

Like most games, he will struggle to hold onto the ball and turn the ball over a few times, but don’t expect him to crumble in a hostile environment. He lives for these types of games and he’s going to have an even better showing than he did last Sunday against the Wolverines when he scored 15.

I predict an alley-oop in the first couple of minutes, maybe even on the first possession after the tipoff, to really set the tone. After that, he will play aggressively against D.J. Wilson and even Mo Wagner if he has to.

The freshman star will finish with 19 points and 11 rebounds on 7-of-13 shooting.

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Nick Ward (44) reacts to a play during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans forward Nick Ward (44) reacts to a play during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

2. Nick Ward dominates Mo Wagner in the post

The first time Michigan State’s Nick Ward went up against Michigan’s Moritz Wagner, the Spartan freshman had the upper hand. He was suffering from the flu, which we found out later, and played just 16 total minutes, but he was 6-for-6 from the floor and had 13 points and two boards.

Wagner, on the other hand, had 10 points and eight rebounds and got under the skin of a few Michigan State players. Don’t think Ward and Co. forgot that as they will get Wagner in foul trouble early on tonight by feeding the post.

Ward has been giving opposing teams fits this season because of his combination of size, sneaky athleticism and post moves. He can get the ball down low and look like he will just back down the defender, but pull off a Derrick Nix-like move that frees him up for an open layup or dunk.

The freshman power forward is second on the team with 13 points per game to go along with six rebounds. He will exceed both of those numbers on Tuesday night as the Wolverines just won’t have an answer for him.

They will, however, double down on him when he gets the ball in the post with a mismatch, but he is beginning to find the open man when this does happen and it will lead to high-percentage shots.

Ward finishes with 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks. Wagner will be lucky to get 10.

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans student section performs during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Jan 29, 2017; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans student section performs during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

1. Spartans win, but it’ll be close

Think this will be an easy win for the Spartans? Think again. Michigan may be struggling lately and losing at home to Ohio State is a very good example of that, but the Wolverines are no pushover. Sure, they’re coming off a home defeat against the Buckeyes, but if you expect them to roll over against another top rival, you’re mistaken.

Must Read: MSU Basketball: 5 bold predictions for February

Crisler Arena won’t necessarily be rocking for the big matchup, but the Spartans and Wolverines always seem to play close games in Ann Arbor — outside of last season.

Michigan is sick of hearing about how it’s second fiddle to the Spartans in the state. The Wolverines have struggled to take down the Spartans over the past couple of seasons and the five-game winning streak for Michigan State is further proof of that.

However, just because they want to win badly doesn’t mean they will. The Wolverines will give the Spartans everything they have, but Nick Ward’s dominance in the post will be the difference in this one. Rebounding and post play has plagued Michigan all season long and it will continue to do so against Michigan State on Tuesday.

This one will go down to the wire and it’ll take free throws from Cassius Winston, Eron Harris and even Miles Bridges to seal the deal. The Spartans will win by four, 73-69 — it could also go four points in the Wolverines’ favor.

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