There is no better time than the present to end a losing streak and it has been seven long years since Wisconsin beat Michigan State on its home turf.
Wisconsin counts on getting one of its toughest battles every year in East Lansing, knowing any win over Michigan State boosts their postseason résumé. This year however, the No. 20/21 Badgers (12-3, 2-1 Big Ten) ride into town ranked higher than the No. 24 Spartans (10-5, 2-1).
This road test seems less daunting now than it did nine months ago, when Michigan State's return to the Final Four was already being billed as inevitable. One high-profile dismissal, another NBA coaching flirtation and five losses later, Tom Izzo's crew looks vulnerable. Yet despite losing four of its last nine games, no one should be taking Michigan State lightly. Other than Saturday's 66-62 failure at Penn State, MSU's losses were all to teams now ranked in the AP Top 12, part of a pre-conference world tour that took the Spartans from Maui to Madison Square Garden. Only one loss (Texas) occurred at the Breslin Center.
Michigan State is still the measuring stick by which a Big Ten team will measure itself. Penn State got two votes in the coaches poll seemingly just for beating the Spartans. A win by Wisconsin would mean expectations immediately ramp up into contender mode and the bullseye moves on to Purdue and Ohio State. A loss means the Badgers "are who we though they were" ... a upper division Big Ten team but probably nothing special.
Meanwhile, the Sparty fanbase doesn't know what to think right now. Some are actually wondering if Michigan State will even make the NCAA tournament. So there should be no doubt that both sides have plenty of motivation to win tonight's game.
The prevailing style and tempo, while always physical, will determine the outcome. Michigan State is struggling again with turnovers this season, giving the ball away on almost 22% of its possessions. This pushes MSU's adjusted tempo to 68.3 possessions per game, which is about average. Led by Tim Jarmusz and Jordan Taylor, on the other hand, Wisconsin boasts the lowest turnover rate in the land. Since the Badgers don't force turnovers either, the games are less frenetic and played at the slowest pace in Division I.
Taylor and Jon Leuer continue to be outstanding for Wisconsin. One or the other has led the team in scoring each game so far. While UW's role players continue to be inconsistent, Keaton Nankivil continues to be the mythical third scoring option. The senior forward has played 64 the past two games, allowing him to ring up six double-digit scoring nights in the last seven outings. Nankivil is 14-of-24 on 3-pointers during that stretch.
Izzo counters with junior do-it-all Draymond Green, who will likely match up with both Nankivil and Leuer. The Spartans will probably need to rely on their quickness around the perimeter. Leading scorer Durrell Summers (15.6 ppg) poses a real threat to Wisconsin at 6'5" with good range. Kalin Lucas (14.3) doesn't quite seem to be his old self yet, but is still dangerous. He and Korie Lucious tag team the point guard duties, though Lucious was recently replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Keith Appling. Delvon Roe rounds out the starting five up front for MSU.
|Michigan State||51.3||37.5||48.8||33.6||1.125||0.976||0.149 (13%)||OK|
Michigan State might as well embrace its solid three-point shooting like Wisconsin has since it has not found many answers inside so far this season. The Spartans shoot twos better than only Penn State and Iowa among conference teams. Center Adreian Payne may be a physically intimidating freak, but he's years away from dominating.
Will Bo Ryan shuffle his starting five for a third time this season? We likely will not know until tip time what combination of Jarmusz, Rob Wilson, Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz man the wing positions for the Badgers. Any way you slice it, "Banner-gate" is nothing more than a good memory for current Badgers, so someone needs to step up and make some new memories in East Lansing tonight.