The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry affects those who participate in it differently.
There’s certainly a fair share of those who have strong feelings.
Tom Izzo has made his disdain for the Wolverines more than clear over the past two decades. Nik Stauskas once blew a kiss to the Breslin Center crowd after an upset victory. Derrick Walton Jr. spoke about wanting to claim “bragging rights.”
And then there’s John Beilein.
Beilein is well aware of the outside expectations and history surrounding this game. Yet the strongest sentiments he expressed Friday afternoon, the day before Michigan is set to face the fourth-ranked Spartans in East Lansing, weren’t all that strong.
For one, Beilein isn’t a fan of playing Michigan State only once during the regular season, and he’s glad that the new conference schedule will move away from that.
He also made it very clear that he doesn’t approach the rivalry in the same manner as his counterpart.
“No, (Izzo) doesn’t like us,” Beilein said when asked whether the two coaches respect but dislike each other. “I’m not a hater. I love Michigan, I don’t care about any other team. I love Michigan.”
So for Beilein, ignoring the baggage that comes with this rivalry is easy. Judging his team’s success solely by this game, he says, is simply something he will never do.
“We know how our fanbase loves this game, and probably we hate to lose it, because we know we’ve got to put up with a whole year of it,” Beilein said. “I try to look at this broad picture of college basketball and don’t try to get too much into one game over another. And so I really try to focus on, this is a great game and we want to win it every year, but I’m not going to allow myself or our program to be judged on how we do in this one game.
“… I’ll be very happy if we win. But I won’t be hating Michigan State if they beat us, or hate them before or afterward.”
It appears that’s a message he has tried passing down to his team.
When questioned, sophomore point guard Zavier Simpson admitted that Beilein’s approach to the rivalry does serve as a calming influence “in a way.” But it may still be more difficult for the players to take Beilein’s zen approach — after all, Simpson also said that the “intensity is just up” this week.
“You can tell the energy’s picking up in practice, everybody’s getting motivated,” Simpson said. “It’s just a different feel right now — which is good.”
When it comes to Michigan vs. Michigan State, that’s simply business as usual. And even the outlier in this rivalry, Beilein himself, seems to recognize that.
“I’m sure as long as Tom’s there and I’m here,” Beilein said, “this is what we’re going to be in for every time we play.”