The race for first place in the Big Ten takes center stage Sunday when Michigan hosts rival Michigan State in one of the most anticipated of the 173 meetings between the teams. Both teams have exchanged wins and losses since the Wolverines picked up an 80-75 road win against the Spartans on Jan. 25 to assume to the top spot in the conference at the time. No. 20 Michigan's see-saw ride continued with a 75-62 loss to Wisconsin on Sunday, as Caris LeVert tallied a career-high 25 points but received little support in the Wolverines' lowest-scoring effort at home since a 58-57 win over Michigan State last March.The 14th-ranked Spartans have not won consecutive games since losing forward Branden Dawson to a broken hand prior to the meeting with Michigan last month, and Dawson remains unavailable after having the pins removed from the hand Friday. With its top rebounder and a standout defender still stuck on the sidelines, Michigan State stepped up its game on the perimeter in a 94-79 win at Purdue on Thursday. Gary Harris made six of the Spartans' school-record 17 3-pointers and finished with 25 points to lead the way.TV: Noon ET, CBSABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (22-5, 11-3 Big Ten): While Dawson remains out the Spartans will have the services of senior center Adreian Payne, who missed the first meeting between the rivals due to a foot injury, all part of an injury-plagued campaign for Tom Izzo's team. Payne is averaging 18 points and 6.8 rebounds in five games since his return, and guard Keith Appling produced nine assists in 25 minutes against the Boilermakers in his second game since coming back from a wrist ailment. If Appling continues to progress and Dawson's imminent return - which Izzo said could come in the Spartans' next game March 1 versus Illinois - occurs without a hitch, Michigan State will look more like the team ranked second nationally in the preseason.ABOUT MICHIGAN (18-7, 10-3): Nik Stauskas scored 19 points in the win over the Spartans last month, but has struggled a bit in the Wolverines' ensuing 3-3 stretch. Stauskas, who leads Michigan in scoring at 16.7, is averaging 11.2 points on 40 percent shooting during the six-game swoon, one reason that the league's top shooting team has been held to 70 points or less in four of its last five affairs. LeVert has done his part to fill the gap by averaging 16.3 points and hitting 46.4 percent of his 3-pointers in the six-game span.TIP-INS1. The Wolverines lead the Big Ten with a 79.1 percent mark at the line in league play, while the Spartans are 11th at 70.5.2. Harris is shooting 43.9 percent when Appling is in the lineup, compared to 28.6 percent in the three games played without the league's leading assist man.3. Michigan has won the last three encounters at home, two of which were decided by one point.PREDICTION: Michigan 75, Michigan State 73
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