Michigan, MSU joust for lead in balanced Big Ten

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Now the ball’s in your court, Sparty.

No. 15 Michigan did its part by upending No. 22 Ohio State 70-60 on Tuesday night, giving the Wolverines a half-game edge in the Big Ten race. Now ninth-ranked Michigan State gets a chance to pull even again when it hosts Northwestern on Thursday night.

The date to circle on the calendar is Feb. 23. That’s when Michigan and Michigan State meet in Ann Arbor with the conference trophy possibly riding on the outcome.

But there’s a lot of work to do before and after that showdown.

“As John and I were talking before the game, every night is a war,” said Buckeyes coach Thad Matta of his discussion with Michigan’s John Beilein.

Outsiders might look at the conference and say this isn’t a vintage year. After all, there is no single, dominant team hailed as a national contender.

But the Big Ten’s depth might be as good as ever. Everybody’s taking their lumps in a season in which even the bottom teams have pulled off upsets, road wins have come more frequently than ever and it seems there’s another major surprise every night of the week.

“It is great to be at the top of this conference, but we still have six games to go - with some really tough games coming up,” Beilein said.

The Wolverines (18-6, 10-2) host No. 21 Wisconsin on Saturday, then have a full week off before welcoming - OK, not exactly “welcoming” - the Spartans onto their home court.

After that they go to Purdue and Illinois and host Minnesota and Indiana.

Michigan, of course, is without big man Mitch McGary, out indefinitely after back surgery on Jan. 7.

Everybody has a tale of woe, it seems.

Already hampered by injuries - Branden Dawson is out with a broken hand, Keith Appling is nursing a wrist injury and Adreian Payne continues to battle a sprained right foot - Michigan State (20-4, 9-2) is entering its busiest part of the season.

Starting with the game against Northwestern, the Spartans play four games in 11 days, including that big game in Ann Arbor. They close with games against Illinois and No. 16 Iowa at home before capping the regular season at Ohio State.

“We’re down to seven games in the regular season - and it’s hard to believe,” MSU coach Tom Izzo said. “With four home games, we’ve got to take advantage.”

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