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Wisconsin men’s basketball: three things that stood out from the loss to MSU

A trio of takeaways from the poor showing versus Michigan State at the Kohl Center.

Michigan State v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

MADISON — In a top-15 matchup at the Kohl Center with sole possession of first place in the Big Ten up for grabs, the Wisconsin Badgers were unable to get anything going in an 86 to 74 loss to Michigan State on Friday night.

Here is a look back at some of the defining aspects of the game.

Three things that stood out:

No. 1: Front court

Shortly before the game, it was shared that the Badgers would be without starting forward Tyler Wahl against Michigan State due to an ankle injury. Wahl was one of Wisconsin’s top players all season long, and especially so during their seven-game winning streak. In his absence, the Badgers inserted sophomore Ben Carlson into the starting lineup against a very deep and experienced Michigan State front court.

Neither Carlson nor backup Carter Gilmore were any match for Michigan State’s front line, as the Spartans were able to score seemingly at will inside on the Badgers for large chunks of the game, and dominated the rebounding department.

Michigan State finished the game +8 in points from the paint, +19 on the boards, and their forwards combined for 26 points. Michigan State’s guards were also able to attack the rim and finish inside against Wisconsin’s inexperience inside.

The game further demonstrated the importance of Wahl’s presence in the lineup. The junior forward does so many little (and big) things for the team on both ends of the court, and the bench behind him was not up to the task against Michigan State’s forwards. Wahl scored in double-figures during six of the last seven games for the Badgers, and outside of Steven Crowl, the rest of the Wisconsin forwards combined for only six points. Carlson played a bit better late in the game, but overall Wahl was sorely missed.

Hopefully, Wahl’s ankle will be better soon because the team clearly could have used him inside against Michigan States' attacking offense. He is such an integral part of the team, and it will be interesting to see how these two teams match up in early February when hopefully Wahl is available.

No. 2: Ice cold first half + bench points

Wisconsin struggled to score against Michigan State for the first 20 minutes. The Badgers were out of sync the entire first half without Wahl. As a team, Wisconsin shot only 27% from the floor and 31% from three-point range, compared to over 50% shooting across both categories for Michigan State for the half.

The Badgers were much better in the second half which allowed them to rally and make things interesting midway through the half, but the early hole proved to be too deep.

For the game, Wisconsin finished shooting over 40% overall and from three, with 74 total points, which is good enough to win most Big Ten games, but per usual the bench was a no-show. While Michigan State received 43 points from their reserves, the Badgers had seven. Without a key player like Wahl others needed to step up, and Friday night it didn’t happen.

No. 3: Defense

Wisconsin played very poorly on the defensive end throughout the game. Michigan State was able to get to their spots without much resistance all night long, and the Spartans were able to make the Badgers pay with some hot shooting. Michigan State was more assertive on both ends of the court, and Wisconsin was unable to string together stops to tilt the game into their favor.

Michigan State was able to get out in transition frequently on Friday night, and the Badgers were unable to adjust to the way the Spartans were running. Overall, Wisconsin allowed 21 points in transition, and also put Michigan State on the free throw line 28 times. It is hard to win in the Big Ten when you allow 86 points, regardless of how well you shoot. The Badgers will have plenty to clean up on that end of the court.

Up next: Wisconsin is currently scheduled to travel to Nebraska on Tuesday night. The Cornhuskers are dealing with COVID-19 issues in their athletic department so the game is in limbo, but if it does occur the game is scheduled to be aired on BTN. There are reports out there that the game might get moved to Thursday afternoon, but nothing is official yet.