I don't think anybody expected the Michigan-Michigan State men's basketball game coming up on Saturday night would be for the outright Big Ten lead as we approach the midway point of the conference season.  But, here we are.

MSU comes into this contest ranked 3rd in the country in both polls with an 18-1 overall record and 7-0 in Big Ten play.  While Michigan is rated 21st by the coaches, 25th by the media.  They're 6-0 in league play, 14-4 overall.

MSU being undefeated in league play is not a surprise given the talent on this team, but the fact that Michigan is unbeaten is a surprise to many.  Both teams have injuries to key players:  MSU has forwards Adreian Payne and Brandon Dawson out due to foot and hand injuries, respectively.  And Michigan has forward Mitch McGary out for the season with a back injury.

With the recent injury to Dawson, this puts MSU in a real bind, in my opinion defensively.  They'll probably start freshman Kenny Kaminski on Michigan sophomore Glenn Robinson III.  I expect Denzel Valentine to start by guarding Nik Stauskas.  But if Robinson can get going early, I think Coach Tom Izzo will make some matchup changes.  Izzo is not a fan of zone defenses, and I don't expect him to go to it on Saturday night.

This is game where guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris need to step up and be great.  If they're just mediocre, Michigan will win.  But they are 2 of the four best players in this league this season.  Appling has been really good this year, considering he's not a natural point guard.

As for Michigan, they'll need to continue to have the good play from point guards Derrick Walton Jr., and Spike Albrecht like they've been having.  If that happens, Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford could have big games.  Head Coach Jon Beilein has done a great job getting the most out of those two in McGary's absence.

One major variable is the MSU crowd.  You know they'll be jacked up for this one.  ESPN's College Gameday is in East Lansing and they'll get them revved up to a fever pitch.  MSU needs the Izzone badly.

It should be a great game at the Breslin Center, one that could go either way, given the injuries to key guys.  Either way, this is only Round 1.  Round 2 is later in February at the Crisler Center.

That's all for now, this is Brock Palmbos....signing off.