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!