As it turns out, Wisconsin didn't need any help knocking itself out of the Big Ten race. The Badgers buried their own faint title hopes in an avalanche of mistakes and missed shots Thursday night in East Lansing.
Oh, and the Spartans were there too.
Michigan State (23-7, 12-5) seized a first-round bye in the Big Ten tournament by using its speed and athleticism to outhustle UW all night. The 58-43 loss puts Wisconsin (20-10, 11-6) in danger of finishing lower than fourth place in the conference for the first time under Bo Ryan.
The final score does not even do Wisconsin's ineptitude justice. At one point, Michigan State led by 23 points and the game's outcome was never in doubt once the Spartans embarked on a 16-0 run near the start of the second half.
To be frank, Wisconsin looked like a team that hadn't played a lot of basketball before. The Badgers fumbled passes, lost their dribble without pressure and generally didn't value the ball. They scrambled too often on defense and struggled to grab a meaningful rebound for the majority of the game. Wisconsin's wide open shots didn't just miss -- they missed badly.
But there is really no need for analysis after a game like this. Numbers tell the story just fine. The key metrics on this night were turnovers, points in the paint and shooting percentage.
Wisconsin turned the ball over 17 times -- the most turnovers by a Badger team since an embarrassing loss at Green Bay over three years ago.
As a direct result of the turnovers, Michigan State produced 23 extra points.
The Spartans also dominated inside. Whether via 15 fastbreak points or simply better execution, Michigan State outscored Wisconsin 32-12 in the paint. Senior Jared Berggren had another disappointing outing, countering with only six points; Frank Kaminsky was scoreless in 11 minutes.
Overall, both teams fired plenty of ugly shots, but only Wisconsin was historically bad. The Badgers hit only 15-of-51 (29.4%) from the field, an even worse clip than the previous low of 29.6% they shot against Michigan State the first time around, and the lowest mark since posting identical numbers during the infamous Big Ten tournament loss to Penn State almost exactly two years ago. Their 4-for-23 (17.4%) 3-point shooting was also just bad enough to set a new season low.
Michigan State was thriving on junk hoops early on and only finished 24-of-65 (36.9%) on field goals.
On the other hand, Keith Appling had been struggling mightily coming into the contest, but given extra chances and an open court to play with, he thrived. Appling shot over 50 percent and finished with a game-high 19 points.
It was just that kind of night for Wisconsin. You know, the kind where an opposing player (Adreian Payne) can go baseline and miss a dunk, hang on the rim so he lands nearly upside down on his head in a terrible-looking fall, only to have the rebound bounce right to him so he can call timeout. The incredible part is that wasn't the only time that a loose ball fell right into the lap of a Spartan who was sitting on the floor under the basket.
Sophomore Travis Trice was credited with six steals for Michigan State, which right from the opening whistle was able to poke the ball loose from basically any Badger who dribbled into the lane. In addition, several Spartans got clean hands on the ball during shot attempts where the Wisconsin shooter simply did not power through and lost control of the ball.
The Wisconsin players looked lethargic and soft next to the quicker Spartans. The Badgers never got on the floor for loose balls until deep into the second half when the game was out of reach.
Even the coaching staff seemed to waive the white flag early when substitutions started coming fast and furious during an 18-point first half. Ryan inserted Evan Anderson and Zach Bohannon with around five minutes left in the half. It was an indictment of how poorly his interior guys were playing at the time.
However, the experiment failed. With a rare opportunity to grab momentum, a cutting Bohannon botched a layup on a nice feed from Jackson which would have cut the Spartan lead to 20-18 with just under two minutes remaining before halftime. Instead, Appling and Berggren traded nifty baskets before a discombobulated Badger defense gave up a buzzer-beating transition 3-pointer to Trice, recalling memories of how Wisconsin closed out the first half poorly against Purdue last Sunday.
Ryan Evans scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Wisconsin with no turnovers. But his senior teammates weren't as adept. In particular, Mike Bruesewitz made a serious of passes that can only be termed absent-minded, leading to three turnovers. Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson each had three also, while Berggren had four.
The win puts Tom Izzo and Michigan State in very good shape for a second consecutive season sweep over Wisconsin, depending on how the conference tourney bracket shakes out. After an impressive start versus Izzo, Ryan has not won at the Breslin Center since 2005.
Along with any share of the Big Ten title or top seed, Wisconsin likely also flushed Ryan's chance at a Coach of the Year award and maybe even Sam Dekker's Sixth Man of the Year candidacy down the drain. Saddled with two first-half fouls, Dekker showed life late in the game, adding nine points in 15 minutes after the break. Yet, a fifth-place team team that loses back-to-back games at the end of the season in the manner Wisconsin has really shouldn't be expecting much hardware either.
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