Ah yes, the dreaded trek to East Lansing to “Da Brez” for the Michigan Wolverines. In graphic terms, it’s been a House of Horror for the rival visitors for all but two times since 1997…sans the 2011 upset win for Michigan – when they marched in with a 1-6 Big 10 mark and rode the emotional drive of leaders Zak Novak and Stu Douglas — and the 2014 triumph when Nik Stauskas fired enough 3s and Derrick Walton delivered 10 for 10 efficiency at the free throw line – have the Maize & Blue marched off the court happy.
Super Bowl Sunday’s 1 p.m. tilt in East Lansing is going to come down to this for Michigan’s chances to come out victorious: John Beilein’s Boys have gotta keep Branden Dawson – a player who was out with a self-inflicted hand injury for last year’s game in EL – from literally having his way with them. That is the key. This is the guy who can dominate Michigan – a team not exactly known in recent times as glass eaters – with abundant defensive caroms, countless offensive put-backs, and crowd-charging fast break dunks.
The Wolverines chances might clearly come down to Walton’s availability. Michigan adapted well to his absence (nagging toe injury) for Nebraska at home Tuesday night with a solid win. But to compete with the Spartans who are historically at their best when “defending and rebounding” – they are going to have to find ways to score in the half-court game (i.e. Walton driving the paint) .
I think the Wolverines are going to play well. I think they are going to compete, They adapt well to misfortune — like the season-ending injury to their leader Caris LaVert. But unfortunately (from my perspective) they are going to fall a little short to the tune of 68-60. I think Michigan will come out on top in the rematch in Ann Arbor on Feb. 17th. But I just don’t think it’s gonna happen for them on Sunday. Maybe it’s the merely twice successful in 19 attempts variable (win at Da Brez). Just being a realist, I guess. But damn, I sure hope I am wrong. Nothing could be sweeter.
(Follow Tom Crawford on Twitter @BlueBellyTom and come visit him during his Friday remote broadcasts with Jack Ebling at The Blue Gill Grill in Haslett 3-6 p.m.)