Now that we're done overreacting to the Maryland loss, there is one silver lining apparent to Tuesday's result.
The Badgers (25-3, 13-2 Big Ten) could have clinched a share of the Big Ten title on the road with a big win and then spent then next 18 hours miserable with their airplane troubles and lodging woes in Pittsburgh. That's no way to celebrate. Instead, Wisconsin gets another crack at things on Sunday afternoon against Michigan State (19-9, 10-5), in front of its home crowd on Senior Day. Unfortunately for Wisconsin, Traevon Jackson still has not been cleared for practice and is not expected to play alongside fellow seniors Josh Gasser, Frank Kaminsky, and Duje Dukan.
On the other hand, the Spartans dropped an overtime stunner Wednesday night to Minnesota, giving up 96 points at home. Their closing stretch is almost as tough as Wisconsin's, though Tom Izzo will likely get them dancing again.
Joe Tuohey, manager at the fantastic Spartan community The Only Colors, shares his thoughts on the matchup.
B5Q: The insertion of Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairns into the starting lineup seemed to jump-start Michigan State and give them a whole 'nother gear on offense. How is the team different with Nairns starting and Travis Trice coming off the bench? It appears to have unleashed Trice.
The Only Questions
•The Only ColorsCheck out the other half of the Q&A with our #RealRivals, hosted by our Michigan State sister site.
The Only Colors (Joe): Tum Tum's insertion into the starting lineup certainly correlated with a four-game winning streak, but color me skeptical about the true impact of the starting lineup change. Michigan State had been playing pretty good basketball all season, and has just had difficulty finishing games. This team has only lost two games by double-digits, and one of those games was against Duke. What really happened was that the shooting finally came around, from three (52% against Northwestern) from the free throw line (85% against Illinois) and from two (78% against Michigan!). I have some trouble directly relating those performances to Tum Tum starting.
B5Q: What's up with allowing Minnesota to score 96 point in the shocking home loss on Thursday night? At 1.26 points per possession, a typically spartan defense made the Gophers look Badger-esque. Any chance Michigan State was looking ahead to the trip to Madison?
TOC: Well, you have to figure MSU is always looking ahead to the #RealRival Wisconsin. I would say it probably keeps Bo Ryan up at night as well, but we all know that he's nocturnal.
Anyways, the defensive performance was head-scratching from an MSU perspective because this team had done so well in Big Ten play; even given this game, MSU ranks first in defensive efficiency in the Big Ten. What happened was that Minnesota got to the line a crazy amount of the time, attempting 40 free throws. And free throw rate is the weakness in the MSU defense, where they're dead last in the Big Ten in conference play. This could be an issue against Nigel Hayes and Frank Kaminsky, who get to the line a fair amount.
B5Q: We know this isn't a vintage Tom Izzo team by any means. The Spartans are a phenomenal three-point shooting team this year, but cannot make free throws to save their lives. On the bright side, the rebounding numbers look like they've come around. Has watching MSU this year been refreshing in a way or just plain frustrating?
TOC: Despite not being a contender, I actually really like this team! It's strange, but the brand of basketball they play is often fun to watch. They share the ball incredibly well, ranking fourth in the country in terms of field goals assisted. They rebound the ball well as you mentioned, and also generally play very good defense. It's been amazing in some ways to watch guys like Trice and Valentine who weren't as highly recruited step into major roles and play well. They swept Michigan, which is something that hasn't happened in a few years, either. So long as the tournament streak continues (and it should) this has been a fun MSU team.
B5Q: Much like Wisconsin, Michigan State has a very challenging finish to its regular season schedule. There is a (small) chance MSU could lose all three games (at Wisconsin, vs. Purdue and at Indiana). Does that put the Spartans in jeopardy of losing their NCAA bid in your opinion, pending the conference tourney outcome?
TOC: Yes, absolutely. The losses to Nebraska and Texas Southern are pock marks on a resume that isn't real pretty anyways. The best wins are against Ohio State, Iowa, and Indiana. An 11-7 record in the conference probably does it, but 10-8 makes it a question. Losing out likely means that MSU is playing for their tournament life in the first Big Ten Tournament game, and wouldn't be safe unless they won two.
B5Q: Branden Dawson is back to his old-school, Spartan dawg self. Which of the younger Michigan State big men has developed the further and is able to help Dawson inside?
TOC: Both Gavin Schilling and Matt Costello have been adequate big men for MSU. For Schilling, that's a major step forward from last year where he was borderline unplayable. For Costello, that's a little less progress than I was hoping for, but he hasn't been an issue. Against lesser big men, Schilling and Costello have shown some ability to score in the post, though they're a far cry from Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix of yesteryear. They'll get in foul trouble, though, and there have been times where walk-on Colby Wollenman has had to play important minutes due to foul trouble. We affectionately refer to him as SWollenman, but if there are times where he's guarding Kaminsky in the post, you guys should be pretty happy.
B5Q: On a team that assists the ball so well and so often, Denzel Valentine continues to stick out. Valentine seems like an unconventional, yet well-rounded player. I've always compared Valentine to Traevon Jackson, not just for a tiny resemblance but because he's a player who can infuriate you one minute and then carry the team the next. You thoughts on the guy?
TOC: I'm one of Valentine's biggest supporters. He's taken on a HUGE role for this MSU team in Big Ten play, using many possessions very efficiently (111.4 offensive efficiency at 26.7% usage). He rebounds well, he's shooting the ball significantly better from distance, and his versatility allows him to guard the 1 through the 4. His continued development is the reason why MSU is in a good place to make the tournament, and I'm especially excited to see him next year.
B5Q: After narrowly missing the Final Four last year, this most likely will be the second year in a row where a Spartan senior class does not achieve that goal -- something which had been a staple of Izzo's program. Michigan State will lose Trice and Dawson next season. Have you seen enough from Nairns, Valentine and other pieces (current or future) to believe this is just a slight blip on the radar? I know there have been quiet complaints about Izzo's recruiting strategy in recent times too. Where are MSU fans' heads at about all this?
TOC: I think everyone is pretty OK with the state of the program so long as the tournament is made this year. Next year, West Virginia transfer Eron Harris becomes eligible and highly-touted big Deyonta Davis comes in alongside some other outside shooters. Next year will be a year where Big Ten contention and a deep tournament run will be expected. This year was always expected to be a rebuilding year.
The recruiting strategy, well, I have no issue with it. Recruiting high-level guys is something this program should be able to do, and I've been pretty happy with the way Nairn, Marvin Clark and Javon Bess have turned out, anyways. Never underestimate the deity status of Tom Izzo in East Lansing.
B5Q: Care to make a prediction for the game?
TOC: This is a bad matchup for MSU. I don't see MSU being able to get out in transition in a way that would allow for the offensive efficiency necessary to keep up with Wisconsin. I also see MSU's bigs having trouble guarding the interior against the length of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin 67, MSU 55
Thanks again to Joe for stepping up and repping his Green and White in enemy territory. Catch him on Twitter @Jobin2E, as well our #RealRivals @TheOnlyColors. Get out and support the seniors at the Kohl Center if you can -- tip is at 3 p.m. CT.
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