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Wisconsin hopes for status quo against Michigan State

Wisconsin's next opponent is unranked and batting .500 in conference play, sitting dead last in field goal percentage and eighth in field goal defense. Bo Ryan has never lost to this particular opponent at home. This is Michigan State basketball in 2011.

The Spartans (13-9, 5-5 Big Ten) have lost four of their last five games and in all six, MSU's opponent has posted an effective FG% of at least 58%. Most recently they were run out of the gym by the Iowa Hawkeyes of all people. The Badgers (16-5, 6-3) would like all of these trends to continue on Sunday, having won four of five since their epic meltdown in East Lansing.

Yet, this is still Michigan State. I don't buy the talk about the Spartans being a bubble team or hitting rock bottom. Ken Pomeroy's numbers predict just three more regular season wins for Michigan State, which seems preposterous. At some point, Tom Izzo will galvanize his remaining troops with an underdog, "us against the world" mentality. We shall see how serious a rivalry game this is by how competitive the Spartans are in Madison.

Last season Wisconsin railroaded Michigan State, 67-49, at the Kohl Center without Jon Leuer. A year later, I am still not convinced that this is a special Wisconsin team necessarily. Beating Purdue was a big step. But if the Badgers had held on against the Spartans in January I might be feeling differently. Korie Lucious saved MSU with a clutch 3-pointer to send that game to overtime.

Now Lucious is gone too and the Spartans are a shell of last year's Final Four selves. Their trademark defense has been MIA while their offense has not been much prettier. Michigan State has scored under 1 PPP three times in past six games.

I was mildly shocked when I saw MSU's two-point FG% despite the common knowledge that the Spartans lack a true inside scoring threat this season. While Wisconsin has embraced its perimeter-oriented identity, Michigan State still needs to figure out who they are offensively. Should MSU run through Kalin Lucas or Draymond Green?

Shooting TPPP
Team eFG% 3P% 2P% 3PA/FGA 3Pt 2Pt Differential (%) Status
Michigan State 49.5 35.8 47.2 34.1 1.074 0.944 0.130 (12%) OK
Wisconsin 52.2 37.4 49.6 40.5 1.122 0.992 0.130 (12%) Smart

Freshman Keith Appling and senior Mike Kebler have picked up the minutes vacated by Lucious. Appling is a good shooter, but Kebler is not a threat to do much. Jordan Taylor is playing as well as any guard in the Big Ten, including Lucas, so UW may have the edge in the back court. The onus is on Lucas to be a facilitator and take over only when needed.

The keys to the game lie in the paint. Leuer needs to prove that he can shake free of Delvon Roe, something he was unable to do last time. Defensively, the Badgers must have a better game plan for Green, who torched UW for 26 points, including the first eight in overtime.

Michigan State will have to make a dramatic change from its recent performance to steal another game from the Wisconsin. But make no mistake, that day is coming. Let's just hope it is not tomorrow.