Preview: Michigan State at Wisconsin
It will be a battle to stay in contention for the Big Ten regular-season title Tuesday night when No. 12 Michigan State travels to face No. 23 Wisconsin. The Spartans, who broke a three-game losing streak with a 79-55 victory over Minnesota on Saturday, are a game behind first-place Michigan entering this contest while the Badgers, who fell to the No. 7 Wolverines 61-52 in their last outing, are two games behind and need a win to stay in the hunt.
Junior guard Cassius Winston (team-high 18.6 points, league-best 7.4 assists, 44.5 percent 3-point shooting) is the spark plug for the high-powered Michigan State offense, which averages 81.9 points, best in the Big Ten. Forward Nick Ward (15.5 points) came alive in the win over Minnesota, scoring 22 points and grabbing nine rebounds, while guard Matt McQuaid had a season-high 18 points and a career-best eight assists in the contest. Wisconsin will pose a challenge for the Spartans, though, as the Badgers are second in the league in scoring defense (61 points) and field-goal percentage defense (39.5 percent), just behind Michigan State’s league-best 37.1 percent. Senior forward Ethan Happ is Mr. Everything for coach Greg Gard, averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists – all of which rank in the league’s top ten – as he attempts to become the first player in Big Ten history to average at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten): Coach Tom Izzo has been mixing his freshmen in at varying times this season, though he may be forced into using one a little more than he’d planned in the next few games. Against Minnesota, forward Kenny Goins went down early with an elbow injury, playing only seven minutes, and reserve forward Xavier Tillman was hampered by foul troubles, which opened the door for 6-8 freshman forward Thomas Kithier to play a career-high 18 minutes. Kithier responded to the extra playing time, scoring a career-high eight points, and with uncertainty about Goins’ availability in the next few games, it’s likely that Kithier will see even more court time.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (17-7, 9-4): Sophomore guard Brad Davison already has a history against Michigan State, going for a career-high 30 points in a home loss to the Spartans last February. But it could be his defense that makes a difference in this game, with his penchant for drawing charges and Michigan State desperate to keep Winston out of foul trouble and in the game. The Spartans – and Winston in particular – had a difficult time with the on-the-ball pressure applied by Illinois in last week’s Illini win, with Winston turning the ball over nine times, and that kind of pressure is just what Davison will look to apply to the Spartans’ leading scorer in an effort to get him off his game.
1. Michigan State leads the nation in assists per game, averaging 20.2, and is coming off a game against Minnesota in which it handed out 27 assists on 31 made field goals for a season-best 87.1 assist percentage.
2. Badgers G D’Mitrik Trice – younger brother of former Spartan G Travis Trice – is fourth in the Big Ten in 3-point shooting at 44.9 percent, and Wisconsin as a team leads the conference, hitting 39.5 percent from beyond the arc.
3. Since the start of the 2001-02 season, Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team to own a .500 or better record against Michigan State, going 17-17 against the Spartans over that span.