Even with Adreian Payne making his return for Michigan State against Penn State, the Spartans – already without Branden Dawson - could be without guard Keith Appling, who is questionable after missing the Penn State game due to a wrist injury. Regardless if Appling doesn't play, the Spartans are still deep enough at guard and talented enough in the low post to really challenge Wisconsin.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin to have success against Michigan State.
Lay up: Can the Badgers take advantage of Appling's absence?
It is unclear whether or not Appling will play on Sunday and the players for Wisconsin are planning that he will, but no Appling takes away a defensive presence for the Spartans. Appling, who is averaging two steals a game, has done a good job of helping the Spartans hold their opponents to 65 points a game.
Appling's potential absence will give the UW guards a chance to attack the rim or try and get some open looks. Wisconsin will need to find ways to score and keep themselves in the game, or keep it close by avoiding scoring droughts. Even if the guards can attack the rim, they will still have to be careful with Payne, who provides a physical presence around the rim.
Mid-range jumper: Can Nigel Hayes have success down low?
Hayes has shown that he has good post moves for a true freshman and he has shown to be one of the more consistent scorers for Wisconsin as of late. While Hayes has shown that he can beat you down low, his all-around game is starting to challenge opponents.
With Hayes being able to knock down his mid-range shot, teams have to respect him by going out and defending him on the perimeter, allowing him room to drive. Hayes will have to be ready when he goes down low against Payne, who will make life difficult for Hayes due to his size and experience. But with Payne only playing in his second game since coming back from his foot injury, he still may not be fully recovered and could be a step slow.
Payne has shown a tendency that he can get into foul trouble, averaging about three a game. With Hayes consistently looking to be aggressive around the rim, he should be able to force Payne into picking up a foul or two. If he can, Hayes will have to be able to make his free throws if he gets to the free throw line.
3-pointer: Can Traevon Jackson play consistent?
After playing poorly against Northwestern and Ohio State, Jackson finally was able to get his game together against Illinois, and it allowed the offense to get in a flow that it had been lacking as of late. In order for the offense to have a similar performance, Jackson can't try and do to much as he's done at times this season.
If Appling does play, the Spartans will try and take advantage of Jackson by trying to force him into mistakes. The Spartans have done a good job this year by forcing teams into turning it over 13.5 times a game, and the Spartans are averaging 7.8 steals a game. Wisconsin can't afford any wasted possessions against Michigan State where they turn it over or take a shot to early into the possession.
With Michigan State liking to play aggressive defense, Jackson has to be smart when he has the basketball. Jackson is has a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio but has made some poor decisions with the basketball at times this year by overthrowing his intended target, or turning it over due to poor communications with one of his teammates. He can't lose focus when he's on the court.