Game 29 Preview and Predictions: Wisconsin at Michigan State

Caleb King’s (@calebking_2) Preview:

2004…That’s the last time the Badgers visited the Breslin Center and came away with a victory. 13 years ago. The last team that walked away victorious from the Breslin Center was led by Devin Harris, Mike Wilkinson, and Clayton Hanson.

Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, and Ethan Happ want to change that today.

The Wisconsin Badgers continue their Big Ten regular season schedule as they travel to East Lansing to take on the Michigan State Spartans at the not-so-friendly Breslin Center. The game is slated to begin at 3:00p.m. on CBS.

The Spartans come into today’s contest with an overall record of 17-11, and find themselves alone at fifth place in the conference standings with a conference record of 9-6. The Spartans are unranked after beginning the season ranked 12th in the Preseason AP Rankings.

It has been quite the dismal year for the Spartans. A power-packed schedule, inexperience, and injuries for Michigan State gave way to a poor start in which it seems the Spartans have never recovered from. This year’s Spartans team has been anything but typical from a team coached by Tom Izzo. Just in their non-conference season alone they played, and lost to, Arizona, Kentucky, Baylor, and Duke. That’s a crazy schedule.

But despite the ‘anything but normal’ year for the Spartans, they’re never a team to look past on their home floor. Despite their slow and somewhat awful start, they still have a 9-6 record in the Big Ten and are just outside looking in at the top four. Izzo isn’t the type of guy that is easily left out of the top four of the conference standings come years end.

Michigan State is led by freshman Miles Bridges, without a doubt. The superstar freshman puts up 16.3ppg for the Spartans to go along with 8.3rpg, 2.0apg, and 1.7bpg. Also a big contributor for the Spartans is Nick Ward (13.1ppg). Another big contributor for the Spartans is Eron Harris, but unfortunately for Michigan State his season is over with a season-ending injury he sustained. Good news for the Badgers? Yes, Harris put up 10.7ppg, but you never want to hear about a guy having a season-ending injury, ever. Best wishes to Harris on his recovery and we hope to see him back on the court again soon!

Now let’s get to our Wisconsin Badgers.

The Badgers come into the Breslin Center today with an overall record of 22-6, and find themselves alone in 2nd place in the Big Ten with a conference record of 11-4. If the Badgers emerge victorious at the Breslin Center today, they will again be in a tie for first in the conference with Purdue due to Purdue’s loss yesterday at Michigan. The Badgers again control their destiny for at least a share of the conference regular season title. The Badgers are currently ranked 16th in the nation.

As of late, given the exception of the Maryland win at home last Sunday, the Badgers haven’t looked like a March-ready basketball team as of late. That’s just the way it is. The lack of production on a nightly basis has been a huge struggle for Gard’s Badgers, especially in the first half of games. It seems like this has possibly, hopefully, climaxed this past Thursday night where the 72nd ranked KenPom offense (Ohio State) tore apart the 7th ranked KenPom defense (Wisconsin).

This game has the opportunity to really spring the Badgers into the final games of their Big Ten schedule, the Big Ten tournament, and then the Big Dance. No Badgers side has won at the Breslin Center since ’03-04. The Badgers are undoubtedly in a slump. If you ask me, if the Badgers emerge victorious this afternoon in East Lansing, it will serve as a momentum catapult into the remainder of the season. There’s a lot riding on this game for the Badgers. If they win, they have a tie for the lead in the conference regular season chase. If they win, they break the Breslin curse. If they win, they arguably shake off their slump. Michigan State is always a team that turns it around no matter what when they get close to March, and Izzo’s side isn’t exactly who you want to play anytime around March.

The Badgers have an incredible opportunity in East Lansing this afternoon. This could turn it all around. This could be the start of a beautiful run into March.

The Badgers are led by their Big 3 in Ethan Happ, Bronson Koenig, and Nigel Hayes. Happ is averaging phenomenal numbers like always: 14.4ppg, 8.9rpg, 2.9apg, 1.1bpg, and 2.1spg. Bronson Koenig is coming off a record setting night on Thursday where he set a new record at Wisconsin for number of 3’s made with 237, and also tied a career high in points with 27. But when Bronson was asked on Thursday about the career night, he responded saying “It doesn’t matter if I have a great game and we lose. We didn’t get the win. That’s how I’ve always operated.” Koenig is putting up 13.8ppg. Nigel Hayes is scoring 13.4ppg to go along with 6.0rpg and 2.7apg.

 My Player-To-Watch tonight is Senior Nigel Hayes. The season is starting to wind down. Hayes is a Senior on this Badgers team and has been a contributor since day one in the program. Nigel’s gotta step up, and he knows it. I’m a firm believer in Hayes and what he can do, and he proved it last Sunday vs Maryland. Look for Hayes to have an aggressive game today, crashing the boards, finding teammates, and creating chances for himself. He’ll be assertive. He’ll be ready for the big stage.

My keys for victory today are pretty simple, I’m just going to go by the numbers. The Badgers have won their past six games when Nigel attempts 10 free throws. To me, I gotta see Nigel being aggressive today and getting himself to the line. Next key: The Badgers have NEVER LOST a game under Greg Gard when they’ve been leading or tied with 5:00 to go in the game. The Badgers don’t typically blow leads. If we can get a lead going into the final fivw minutes, I feel pretty confident that they’ll pull through.

A big key will be matching up with and stopping Miles Bridges. When the Spartans went through their really tough road and when their fans began to turn on them, Bridges was injured and not playing. Ever since Bridges has returned he has been a vital part of their success. We have to stop Bridges and keep him off the glass.

I believe that the Badgers will, for the first time in 13 years, escape Michigan State’s Breslin Center with a win and keep pace atop the Big Ten table with Purdue.

 King’s Prediction: BADGERS 74 Michigan State 68 (King is 15-4 on the season)

As always, #OnWisconsin

Ben Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 64 Michigan State 68 (Thorson is 22-3 on the season)

“Leave no box unchecked.” It was a simple reminder as Nigel Hayes returned for his senior season in Madison that he hadn’t accomplished everything he wanted yet at Wisconsin. One of those things is winning at the Breslin Center. I hate to put all the pressure on one man, but Mr. Hayes it’s on you to check that box this afternoon in East Lansing.

On Thursday night in Columbus, the Badgers frontcourt was stymied by the aggressive double team of Ohio State. Hayes finished the game with seven points on 2-for-6 shooting while going 3-for-7 from the free thrown line. Redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ finished the game with four points on 2-for-5 shooting and no trips to the line.

Happ and Hayes need to be more intelligent in the low post, get to the free throw line, avoid turnovers, and find open teammates to prevail in East Lansing.

Michigan State is coming off an impressive 88-72 victory at home vs. Nebraska, a game where they played without senior leader, Eron Harris. The Spartans were led that night by a pair of 20-point performances from freshman Miles Bridges and Nick Ward. Ward is a powerhouse down-low and has proven to be a matchup problem for many in the Big Ten. Can Ethan Happ find ways to score on the inexperienced defender and avoid foul trouble on the other end of the floor?

Recently Michigan State has been convincing, winning their last four on their home court and recently the Badgers have been unconvincing. Until things change, I have to go with the Spartans at home, prove me wrong Bucky!

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Game 27 Preview and Prediction: Wisconsin vs. Maryland

Ben Thorson’s (@benjthorson) Preview: The Wisconsin Badgers Men’s Basketball team returns to action Sunday afternoon as they host the 23rd-ranked Maryland Terrapins at the Kohl Center. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 12:00p.m. on CBS.

After losses to Northwestern and Michigan, the Badgers will look to avoid falling out of first place in the Big Ten Standings. Entering play on Saturday, Wisconsin is in a 3-way tie with Purdue and Maryland with a 10-3 conference record. Purdue takes on Michigan State at 3:00p.m. on Saturday.

Maryland comes into Madison off back-to-back wins against Ohio State and Northwestern as the Terrapins boast an overall record of 22-4. Maryland is currently ranked 17th in the RPI rankings with their top wins coming against Minnesota, Oklahoma State, and Northwestern. The Terps are 3-1 against RPI Top-50 opponents; their only loss was a 72-73 defeat to Purdue on February 4th. Maryland does have some questionable losses this season as they have fallen to three teams outside the RPI Top-50: Pittsburgh, Nebraska, and Penn State.

The Terps are led by guard, Melo Trimble; who leads Maryland with 17.2 points per game and 1.2 steals per game. The junior also posts 3.5 rpg, 3.5 apg and 44.4% shooting from the field. Trimble isn’t doing it alone however, as he is getting help from a trio of freshman led by forward Justin Jackson. Jackson leads the Terps with 6.3rpg to go along with 11.0ppg. The freshman can also spread the floor as he has connected on 36 three-pointers this season on 80 attempts (45.0%).

The other two freshman of note are guards Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter. Cowan is averaging 10.7ppg, 4.0rpg, 3.7apg. and 1.2spg. While Huerter contributes 9.0ppg and 5.0rpg.

After previewing this Maryland squad, what do the Badgers need to do Sunday to end their two-game skid?

  1. Nigel Hayes needs to be more assertive: In the absence of Bronson Koenig against Michigan on Thursday, the Badgers were looking for major production from their other three senior starters. Hayes, Vitto Brown, and Zak Showalter combined for 14 points on 5-for-19 shooting. The Badgers need more production from Hayes, who didn’t attempt a single free throw in Thursday’s loss. Hayes has proven unstoppable in spurts this season when he drives to the basket and works in the low post; as defenders are left a step-behind resulting in an easy finish for Nigel or a foul. Look for Hayes to be more assertive Sunday in what may be the biggest game of his senior campaign to date.
  2. Play with the lead in the final 10 minutes: We all understand the Badgers offensive struggles recently; these struggles have allowed opponents to go on runs and ultimately force the Badgers to play from behind late in games. This will prove even more important on Sunday as Melo Trimble has proven to be one of the most ‘clutch’ players in the conference and one of the most consistent free-throw shooters late in games. If the Badgers trail late, they most likely will be trading buckets with a pair of made free throws from Trimble.
  3. Play a Badgers brand of basketball: Wisconsin returns to their home floor in need of a big victory. We know the Kohl Center will be rockin’ but will we see the same sluggish, turnover-prone offense from the Badgers on Sunday? Wisconsin has to take more pride in protecting the basketball and getting to the free throw line. The play of Ethan Happ has proven consistent over Big Ten play, but who will step up Sunday to help keep the Badgers on top of the Big Ten conference; in my opinion it needs to be a complete team effort.

Thorson’s Prediction: BADGERS 63 Maryland 60 (Thorson is 21-2 on the season) At the time of writing this article, the status of senior guard Bronson Koenig is still undetermined, but my prediction holds true in either situation, here’s why…Koenig has been relatively ineffective ever since this calf injury came about sometime between the Penn State and Rutgers games, as result the Badgers offense has become sluggish and doesn’t have a ‘go-to’ scoring option down the stretch. But this stretch has now gone on for too long for Greg Gard and his staff to not have an answer. And the answer hinges on playing ‘elite’ defense, taking care of the basketball, and Nigel Hayes playing like a member of the All Big-Ten Conference First Team.

According to Kenpom rankings, the Badgers have the most efficient defense in the Big Ten conference and are currently ranked 7th in the country on this end of the floor. This defense has allowed 61.8 ppg in Big Ten play, which includes three overtime periods; in regulation time they have allowed 59.5ppg. I expect this stout defense to continue Sunday on their home floor with an understanding that Melo Trimble is going to get his points but don’t allow him to get consistent production from his trio of freshman who have never seen a defensive unit as solid as the Badgers.

This carries on to many Badgers fans concern over the play of Koenig’s replacement D’Mitrik Trice. The freshman guard was 2-for-15 from the floor Thursday night as Trice recorded nine points in his first career start. First of all, Trice should have never been in a position to take this many shots, Hayes was non-existent on the offensive end and Brown stopped shooting after an 0-for-5 start. If anything I am actually encouraged that Trice was willing to take that many shots, because if he’s in that position again Sunday, D’Mitrik is too good of a shooter to only make two. Second, Trice had four assists, four free throw attempts, and two turnovers in his first ever road start against a much-improved Wolverines team. Trice proved to be the most assertive Badger behind Ethan Happ on Thursday night and I think he’s in for a better performance Sunday if called upon to start again.

There are many concerns and questions leading into Sundays game with Maryland but the Badgers have always proven to me that they have a response; and I expect that response to come Sunday afternoon with a top-25 victory!