Looking to Paintball

After winning on its first two trips to Breslin Center under Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, the Badgers have dropped their last six meetings. The reason is the same one that cost UW earlier this year against the Spartans: rebounding.

EAST LANSING, Mich. - When packing for his team's latest road trip, Mike Bruesewitz knew exactly what he needed to bring in order to battle against the Spartans' big post players.

"You got to bring both guns blazing, a full suit of armor, a first-aid kid and basically everything you can because you know they are going to go to the glass and beat you up," said Bruesewitz. "We got to make sure we come with our war paint."

It's a lot of extra baggage for No.15 Wisconsin (19-6, 8-4 Big Ten) to carry, but the challenge demands it when the Badgers square off against No.7 Michigan State (20-5, 9-3) at the Breslin Center tonight looking to inch closer to the top spot in the Big Ten.

The Badgers have an opportunity to move one game back thanks to Michigan State knocking off then-No.3 Ohio State, 58-48, in Columbus on Saturday. The Spartans did it by out rebounding Ohio State and holding them to 26 percent shooting – two areas where Wisconsin faltered in its home loss to OSU a week earlier.

Those numbers more so continue a trend under Coach Tim Izzo. Michigan State is holding teams to a .374 field-goal percentage, the lowest total of the Izzo era and fifth best in the nation, and its +10.2 rebounding margin is the third-best margin of the era and in the nation.

Currently, Michigan State is the only team in the country to rank in the top five nationally in both categories.

"Michigan State is as physical as anyone we'll play this year and that's something they are known for," said junior Jared Berggren. "Every player on the floor rebounds well. We have to work hard, box out every time, stay discipline, stay tough and try to win those 50-50 balls."

The size in the paint Wisconsin will be fighting against makes it all the more of a challenge. Senior Draymond Green, a Big Ten player of the year candidate and the life blood of the offense, is listed at 6-7, 230 pounds and averages a double-double (15 points, 10.5 rebounds). Junior Derrick Nix (6-9, 270 pounds) and sophomore Adreian Payne (6-10, 240) bring added muscle while 6-6, 220-pound freshman guard Branden Dawson is second on the team with 4.8 rebounds a game.

"Rebounding is something that pride themselves on," said Bruesewitz, as Michigan State leads the Big Ten with 13.0 offense rebounds per game. "Every year, year in and year out, they are always at the top of the Big Ten in rebounding, and that's something that we have to take care of. We have to control the boards better than we did last game. The boards are really going to tell the story."

When it comes the Badgers-Spartans over the last six years – the work on the boards has made the difference. After Wisconsin won the first six games in the series with Ryan as the head coach, the two schools are 7-7 in the last 14 meetings with the Spartans having won the last six on their home floor with a 10.5 rebounding edge.

In Michigan State's 63-60 overtime win at the Kohl Center Jan.3, the Spartans first win in Madison since 2001, the Spartans outrebounded Wisconsin 41-33, a game that will be remembered more for junior Ryan Evans' desperation three-pointer being waved off after a video review rather than a 36-18 disadvantage in the paint.

"There's no question that (rebounding) was one of the big differences in the game and it often tells the story when we play them," assistant coach Gary Close said. "They go to the boards hard. You got to have some heart and go get it.

"We've had our nights when we've rebounded well, but I don't think it's been consistent. We're heading into some teams that can really expose you."

Wisconsin averages 5.4 total rebounds and 3.0 offensive rebounds less that Michigan State, but the Badgers have plenty of guys that can secure the loose ball. Evans is fourth in the Big Ten in rebounding at 6.8 per game. Bruesewitz is tenth with 5.3 per game, followed by Berggren (4.9), sophomore guard Josh Gasser (4.3) and senior guard Jordan Taylor (4.0).

The strength in numbers will be vital, but so will be packing the armor and war paint to combat for every loose ball.

"They have a physical mentality," Bruesewitz said. "That's just how Coach Izzo coaches and we have to have that edge, too. We have to make sure we match that intensity, and exceed it, if we're going to come out on top."

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