Michigan State earned a huge road win on Sunday, downing Michigan by a score of 77-70 in Ann Arbor. The Spartans are now 14-3 in the Big Ten and have a half game lead over Purdue in the conference.
Here are three things we learned from Sunday's game.
High-usage Cassius Winston is fun
Winston has steadily improved each year of his college career. He was a floor general as a sophomore, averaging 12.6 points and 6.9 assists while setting up the likes of Joshua Langford, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson and Nick Ward.
Bridges and Jackson are in the NBA now and Langford and Ward are sidelined, so Winston is carrying a heavier offensive burden than ever. And he's thriving. He scored 27 points and dished out eight assists against Michigan, which has one of the best defenses in America. And Zavier Simpson is a solid point guard defender.
But Winston just torched the Wolverines. He got to the free-throw line 14 times; he was getting to his spots just about whenever he wanted and certainly wasn't shying away from contact. Winston is Michigan State's only real shot creator right now, which could eventually prove troublesome. But for now, the Spartans are playing simple, effective basketball. Having a point guard as good as Winston dictate the outcome of just about every play isn't the worst thing, when you really think about it.
We'll see if he can keep this up.
A way to overcome a rough outside shooting game is to attack the basket at will
Michigan State, without Ward or Langford, beat Michigan by seven in Ann Arbor and went 5-of-20 from 3-point range. That's a wild sentence to type.
The Spartans won this game at the free-throw line. They went 24-for-30 from there, and several key Wolverines were in foul trouble throughout the game.
Winston was the catalyst here. It's easy to say teams should drive to the basket more; it's another to actually do it successfully. Michigan had the No. 2 defense coming into the game and is loaded with good defenders. But they just couldn't stay in front of Winston, and he was consistently able to create a shot for himself or scramble the defense to the point where teammates could do damage off of secondary action.
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Matt McQuaid, who's mostly a spot-up shooter, is averaging one free-throw attempt per game this season. He got to the stripe eight times on Sunday. Michigan State isn't as conventionally talented without Langford or Ward, so it's going to need to be extra assertive on offense. It was against Michigan.
Michigan can't afford for Charles Matthews to play poorly against quality opponents
Matthews went 1-for-8 with four points and no rebounds against the Spartans. Michigan is good enough to beat some opponents with an off game from its superstar, but the margin for error against Michigan State isn't that big.
Michigan doesn't have much depth, so it's crucial that star players play like stars. Simpson, Jordan Poole and Ignas Brazdeikis all scored in double figures. If Matthews plays like he normally does, Michigan probably wins.
Everyone has an off game. Matthews, for the most part, has been spectacular lately and there's no reason to think this will carry over into March. Bottom line: the Wolverines are talented, but not so much that it can overcome a 1-for-8 shooting performance from one of their best players against a dangerous foe.