Michigan Basketball Rivalry: When Both Teams Are Local, Who Do Fans Root For?

The rivalry definitely doesn't match Duke-North Carolina. It might not even be on par Louisville-Kentucky, but Michigan-Michigan State basketball is nothing to scoff at. Especially this year. With Michigan ranked No. 4 in the AP poll and Michigan State close behind at No. 8, Tuesday night's match-up promises to be an intense battle. 

I'm from Michigan. I grew up in a small town called Bath right outside of East Lansing and Michigan State (MSU). It's also only an hour away from Ann Arbor and Michigan (UofM). I am ashamed to say that I have been both a fan of UofM and MSU basketball. When you grow up in a state in which two good basketball teams are local, it is hard to decide which team will be your favorite. Unless you know what you're looking for, it's easy to arbitrarily decide that being an MSU fan is far better than cheering for Michigan.

In the early 90s, it was every kid's dream to be a professional basketball player. The Detroit Pistons won the NBA Championship in 1989 and 1990, but the main reason was Michigan's Fab Five. This was the team of five freshman (and then sophomores) who took over the college basketball world and made the 1992 and 1993 Final Four (although these results were later revoked due to NCAA Violations).

They also wore loooooooooong, baggy shorts and black socks with black shoes. They epitomized cool. That's why I was a Michigan basketball fan for a good portion of my childhood. I even stayed with them through the early 2000s (I wish I wouldn't have, because I actually cheered against MSU when they won the 2000 NCAA title. You see, you can't like UofM and MSU, that's against the rules).

As soon as I went away to college, I flip-flopped away from UofM and started cheering for the Spartans. A few things swayed me from the maize and blue of UofM to the green and white of MSU: 

- My school, Columbia, was sadly not that good at basketball, my favorite sport.

- My dad is an entomologist at Michigan State.

- Magic Johnson won them a national title in 1979 and if you like basketball, you like Magic. 

- Tom Izzo is the man, even if he yelled at me at his Tom Izzo Basketball camps back in the mid-90s. 

- This shirt is reason enough to dislike Michigan fans: 


In all seriousness, I chose to be a Michigan State fan because I like basketball more than football. It worked out well for me for a few years in terms of getting the better team. This year, however, UofM has looked like one of the best teams in the country while MSU has looked like they could make a run at the Final Four or fall victim to a second round upset. Tuesday night's game will be a real test for each team. Best part is, they'll have another shot on March 2, and I can say with confidence that I'll still be rooting for Michigan State. 

Michigan currently leads the all-time series 94-75 over the Spartans. Tuesday night's game is at 9 p.m. EST on ESPN. 

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Liam Boylan-Pett

Liam is a culture writing intern at PolicyMic. His work has appeared in "Running Times" and other running publications. He is also a professional middle-distance runner for the New Jersey-New York Track Club. After graduating from Columbia University with his bachelor's degree, he earned a Master's of Professional Studies in Journalism from Georgetown University. Originally from Bath, Mich, he spends his time watching TV, reading longform journalism, and thinking about who is going to be in the NCAA basketball tournament's Final Four.

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