Tonight, at 9 p.m. in East Lansing, history is going to be made between two of the NCAA's biggest and most-storied rivals.
No. 8-ranked Michigan State (20-4, 9-2 Big Ten) will host the No. 4 Michigan Wolverines (21-3, 8-3) at the Breslin Center to mark the first time these two teams will have ever met upon the basketball court while both being nationally-ranked among the top ten at the same time.
Spartans head coach Tom Izzo has made no qualms in the past about his distaste for the boys in Blue. Though he has said he "immensely respects" U-M coach John Beilein and Michigan as a program, he's also said that he likes the Wolverines, well, "not one bit".
But tonight, the tables are turned from the usual setup seen between these two teams from a historical sense. Michigan has been teetering within the top five rankings for the past few weeks and with an easy schedule (by Big Ten Conference standards) remaining, Beilein hopes to clear an easy path to the NCAA tournament by shutting down arch-rival Michigan State on their own court.
Back within the top ten for the first time in weeks, Michigan State is looking to make their case for a high seed into the Big Dance by igniting a fury at home under the national spotlight. Coach Izzo knows that this match up will be unlike any other in recent memory between these two teams that just seem to plain "not like one another".
"The nation is talking about it now," Izzo said concerning tonight's game. "And, there's a sick side of me that it makes happy. Who wouldn't rather dominate in a rivalry series? But it's not a series that should be dominated by either squad because both teams should be good and both teams are good this year. In my estimation, this is their best team in a lot of years."
It's true - this year's Michigan squad is electric. The question now remains if that style of play that has kept the Wolverines among the nation's elite for the past month will prove effective against the tough and physical style of play put on by the Spartans.
"It should make for a heck of a game," Izzo said. "It's fun to actually feel like the game matters in every way shape or form both locally and nationally. I'm not sure that has happened since I've been here where both are important."
Michigan State senior captain Derrick Nix vocalized his desires for a victory tonight, stating that nothing else at the moment matters... beating his team's rival is all he wants.
"If we win this game, we have an edge on everybody," Nix said. "We want that. It's a must-win game."
Tip-off is tonight at 9 p.m. in East Lansing and can be seen on ESPN.
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