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A lot has been made of the Trey Burke and Aaron Craft (OSU) matchups, but one that seems to fly under the radar is the matchup between Burke and Appling. Michigan and MSU split their games last season and things were also competitive at the point guard position. Burke was great in Ann Arbor with 20 points, but dropped off to 11 points and 4 turnovers in East Lansing. Appling struggled in Ann Arbor, committing 4 turnovers and fouling 4 times, but he did improve in East Lansing with 10 points and only 3 turnovers and 2 fouls. Going into one of the biggest games in the history of the rivalry between Michigan and MSU, this matchup could be key.
When Michigan's on offense, Appling will most likely be guarding Burke. There is no doubt that the Spartans will hedge out their big men in an effort to slow down Burke and will try to keep him out of the lane, but with the rosters, Appling is probably the best defensive fit for Burke. Whether Michigan plays with a big or small lineup is still up in the air, but there are probably only two players that would be put on Burke: Appling or Harris. Harris is just a freshman and would probably matchup better with Hardaway than Burke so Appling appears to be the likely choice.
This is a matchup that seems likely to go well for Michigan. Burke didn't do quite as well in East Lansing as he did in Ann Arbor last year, but he still got 11 points and 4 assists. MSU is probably going to design their entire defense to keep Burke from driving the basket. You can't fault them for this decision, but it's going to open up a lot of things on the outside for Michigan. Burke may have turned it over a bunch in last year's game in East Lansing, but he has been great at avoiding turnovers this season, even against great defenders like Craft and Oladipo. The big question will be whether Michigan's wings are hitting their shots. MSU will be physical inside and guard the paint well, but Burke has shown he can dish to the open guy and though Appling's a pretty good defender, this is probably a good matchup for Michigan.
When Michigan's on defense, it will probably be a much bigger challenge for Burke. Appling has been inconsistent this year, but when Appling gets going, he's hard to stop. It seems unlikely he will get into foul trouble in this game like he has in many games this season, but they may be able to get some turnovers. Appling has some similarities to Burke offensively, but he's much more of a scorer than Burke and doesn't really shoot much outside the arch. This means Burke will have the challenge of stopping him from driving the basket and getting open looks inside the arch.
MSU probably takes a slight edge in this matchup. Burke has definitely improved his defense this year and has given many players headaches so far this year, but he does get beat sometimes and Appling is one of the best athletes in the Big Ten. If he gets an opening, he's going to take it and converts much of the time. The good thing here is that he's not really a point guard that will drive the basket and dish. He can do it, but not nearly as well as Burke. If he drives the lane and Michigan can get someone over to help fast enough, they probably will get some quality stops. The big thing for stops will be getting rebounds, which can be a challenge against MSU's frontcourt. If Michigan can't get a rebound after stopping Appling, it won't mean much.
The matchup between Burke and Appling may not get a ton of coverage, but it's going to be one of the most interesting things to watch in tonight's game. Michigan will need to do more than just win this matchup to win the game, but if Burke is able to get some openings and have a good game, it's certainly going to help the Wolverines. And if MSU can get a big game for Appling, odds are pretty good that they'll pull off the upset at home.
Another day, another marquee matchup in the Big Ten. The first top ten meeting between Michigan and Michigan State. Who will win?
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Who is Appling? and Burke = Wooden Award
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