Date: Thursday, February, 24 – Breslin Center, East Lansing, MI (14,759)
Time: 7 p.m. (ESPN National)
GAME NOTES: Over the past six seasons, this has been the Big Ten's most intense rivalry. Thursday night's matchup will be the 117th meeting between the two teams. Michigan State leads the series 63-53. The Spartans hold a 38-14 advantage in games played in East Lansing, while Wisconsin has won the last six meetings overall. Prior to the last six games, Michigan State had won 12-of-13 against the Badgers. During Wisconsin's current six-game winning streak, four of their wins have been decided by four points or less.
Wisconsin (17-6, 8-4 Big Ten) is coming off a 76-50 win over Michigan at home last Wednesday (Feb. 16). While Michigan State (19-4, 10-2 Big Ten) defeated Purdue, 68-57, last Saturday (Feb. 19) in West Lafayette.
Paul Davis had a big day versus Wisconsin in their first meeting, scoring a season-high 20 points and grabbing 5 rebounds. He will have to be aggressive once again Thursday, but must look to attack the basket more this time, as he settled too often for jumpers against the Badgers in Madison.
Davis has played solid basketball all season, averaging 12.2 points and 7.1 rebounds in 25.2 minutes-per-game. He is also third on the team in steals (27), behind Shannon Brown (32) and Chris Hill (31).
Mike Wilkinson, a senior, is one of the most dominant players in Badger history. He is the only active Division I player with at least 1,300 points, 700 rebounds, 200 assists, 150 steals and 100 blocked shots in his career. This season, he has scored in double figures in 17 of the last 19 games; averaging 15.8 points and 8.1 rebounds in Big Ten play.
Expect the Spartans to try and neutralize Wilkinson with a variety of looks, including double-down help from the guards and backside help from Davis when Drew Naymick and/or Delco Rowley are assigned to Wilkinson. It's also possible that the Spartans' best post defender, Alan Anderson, could see time against Wilkinson for a change of pace.
Forward: Michigan State's Alan Anderson (6'6" 220) versus Wisconsin's Alando Tucker (6'5" 205)
Alan Anderson is playing the best basketball of his Spartan career right now, averaging 13.5 points, 5.2 rebounds in his last four games. He will be tested defensively against Tucker Thursday night. Tucker is a versatile player (14.7 ppg, 6,9 rpg) who can play either the face-up or post-up game. He was a one-man gang against Illinois back on Feb. 12 (70-59 Badger loss), scoring 24 points and grabbing 8 boards. Look for plenty of action down on the block between these two players Thursday night.
The freshman Neitzel will face a major test against the senior Chambliss (8.5 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.8 apg). Neitzel must be conscious of where Chambliss is on the floor at all times to prevent him from getting open looks at the hoop. Sharif leads the Badgers with 44 3-pointers (44-105 / .419). Chambliss also owns a 2.13 assist-to-turnover ratio.
If Drew can continue to play well at the point (16 assists and 4 turnovers in last four games) and contribute offensively like he did versus Purdue, where he scored a career-high 10 points; the Spartans will have a major pre-game concern out of the way.
Taylor has been a force during the Big Ten season. He is averaging 11.7 points (third on the team) and has scored at least 13 points in five conference games, including three 20-point efforts. He scored the game-winning field goal on a pull-up jumper with 31 seconds left vs. Michigan State back on Jan. 16.
Hanson is shooting .455 (35-77) from 3-point range (tops in the Big Ten) and has made 16-of-31 (.516) treys over the last nine games. Hanson scored 15 points (5-of-7 from downtown) against Michigan State back on January, 16th.
Morley, a starter early in the season, has been a force of late off the bench for the Badgers. In Big Ten play he is shooting .588 (10-17) from 3pt range and .442 (23-52) from the field overall. He came up big on the glass in the first Michigan State game, grabbing eight rebounds, including four in the last two minutes.
KEYS TO VICTORY:
WISCONSIN: Attack the Basket, Rebound, and Get Back in Transition.
The Badgers are a good rebounding team, and only lost the edge on the glass by four (38-34) versus the Spartans in their first meeting. Wilkinson and Tucker must be aggressive early to attempt to put Paul Davis and Alan Anderson into early foul trouble. If they can get either Spartan to spend any extended minutes on the bench, the Badgers should be able to control the glass. Controlling the glass will provide a big step toward Wisconsin preventing Michigan State's fast break from opening up; it could also lead to second chance baskets and fewer possessions for the Spartans' talented offense.
If Wisconsin can establish the inside-outside game with Wilkinson and Tucker going to the hoop and Chambliss and Hanson looking to spot up for open threes; the Spartans could be in for some trouble. If a player like Taylor or Morley can come off the bench and provide a spark, it will provide a lift to combat the bench scoring of the Spartans' Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert.
The Achilles Heel for the Badgers could be at the charity-stripe, where they are shooting just 68.7 percent as a team in Big Ten play. Don't expect the Badgers to get into foul trouble themselves however – as, amazingly, they have had just one player foul out during the Big Ten season – Alando Tucker in a 74-61 loss at Indiana (Jan. 8).
MICHIGAN STATE: Rebound, Defend the Perimeter, and Hit Your Free Throws.
The team that controls the glass is likely to control the game. Michigan State is + 8.0 in that category on the season; while Wisconsin is + 4.3. The Spartans want to rebound so they can get their running game going. If Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager, and Alan Anderson can get out into transition, Michigan State should get plenty of open looks and extra trips to the foul line.
Michigan State has had trouble all season defending the perimeter. Going into the Purdue game, the Spartans had allowed their opponents to hit 36.3 percent (138-380) from downtown this season. The Badgers were deadly in the last game, going 12-28 (.429) from beyond-the-arc; with Chambliss and Hanson going a combined 9-for-17. If the Spartans allow that to happen again, the Badgers could stretch their Spartan winning streak to seven games.
If the game is tight down the stretch, Michigan State cannot fail at the foul line like they did last month in the Kohl Center. The Spartans simply must capitalize on every scoring chance they get; the Badgers are too good otherwise.
PREDICTION: This game will be another nail-biter. Expect the Badgers to slow the game down to minimize Michigan State's possessions, while also trying to establish the post-up games of Wilkinson and Tucker. The Spartans must take advantage of every scoring opportunity and defend every second of every Wisconsin possession. The team that controls the glass and attacks the basket more effectively will likely emerge the winner.
FINAL: Michigan State 65, Wisconsin 61