Michigan State Possible Underdog In Return To Court Following Tragedy

The Spartans are just one game out of third place in a competitive Big Ten race

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Michigan State University’s athletic programs return to action this weekend, a few days after a deadly shooting on campus. Among the teams set to play is the men’s basketball team (16-9, 8-6 Big Ten), which faces Michigan (14-12, 8-7 Big Ten) in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

The Spartans and Wolverines are scheduled to play Saturday at 8 p.m. on FOX. It’s the first game for the men’s basketball team since the on-campus tragedy.

“The safety and physical and mental well-being of our students and staff is the primary focus of Michigan State athletics,” Athletic Director Alan Haller said in a statement. “In consultation with mental health professionals and in conversations with our student-athletes it became apparent that a return to practice and competition is a crucial part of their recovery. Student-athletes were given an active voice in the decision to return to competition, as well as the autonomy to make their own individual choices about participation.”

Tight game expected

Saturday will be about far more than winning and losing, as head coach Tom Izzo and others hope the contest can play a role in healing for members of the Michigan State community. The women’s basketball team also plays Saturday in what will surely be a meaningful game for the Spartans, as that program hosts No. 8 Maryland at 3 p.m. 

“Athletics can be a rallying point for a community in need of healing, a fact many of our student-athletes have mentioned to me,” Haller said. “The opportunity to represent our entire community has never felt greater.”

On the court, Saturday’s game between Michigan and Michigan State is expected to be competitive. Michigan State won the first meeting 59-53 on Jan. 7 in East Lansing, as the Spartans held the Wolverines to 3-20 shooting from the 3-point line. Basketball analytics site KenPom.com projects the Wolverines to be 1-point favorites in Saturday’s matchup as they fight for a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

ESPN’s latest bracketology from Joe Lunardi projects the Spartans as a No. 7 seed, while Michigan is outside the NCAA Tournament picture. The Wolverines need a flurry of wins to make the Big Dance, while the Spartans are firmly inside the field entering this weekend. 

Sports betting lines for the game had yet to be released by mobile sportsbook operators as of Friday morning, although Michiganders will have numerous places to wager on the game once the lines come out. Barstool Sportsbook, BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars Sportsbook, FanDuel, PointsBet, and WynnBET are among the sportsbooks that operate in the state.

Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images