Wisconsin (16-9, 8-4 Big Ten) vs. No.8 Michigan State (21-5, 8-5 Big Ten)
Date/Time – Thursday, February 18, 8 p.m. central
Arena – Breslin Center (14,797)
Television – ESPN (Jason Benetti and Dan Dakich)
Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)
Series – Michigan State leads 75-64 (Michigan State leads 46-14 in East Lansing)
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 77-76, on January 17, 2016, in Madison
WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS
3 Zak Showalter (6-2 Junior Guard, 7.7 ppg)
10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Junior Forward, 17.1 ppg)
22 Ethan Happ (6-9 Freshman Forward, 11.6 ppg)
24 Bronson Koenig (6-4 Junior Guard, 13.4 ppg)
30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Junior Forward, 9.5 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
11 Jordan Hill (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 3.1 ppg)
15 Charlie Thomas (6-8 Freshman Forward, 2.9 ppg)
21 Khalil Iverson (6-5 Freshman Forward, 2.8 ppg)
24 Alex Illikainen (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.7 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
Over the last five games, Brown is averaging 13.8 ppg and shooting 9-for-16 (.563) from 3-point range.
MICHIGAN STATE PROBABLE STARTERS
5 Bryn Forbes (6-3 Senior Guard, 14.0 ppg)
10 Matt Costello (6-9 Senior Forward, 10.3 ppg)
14 Eron Harris (6-3 Junior Guard, 9.3 ppg)
23 Deyonta Davis (6-10 Freshman Forward, 7.6 ppg)
45 Denzel Valentine (6-5 Senior Guard, 19.5 ppg)
OFF THE BENCH
2 Javon Bess (6-5 Sophomore Forward, 3.5 ppg)
15 Marvin Clark Jr. (6-6 Sophomore Forward, 3.4 ppg)
20 Matt McQuaid (6-5 Freshman Guard, 4.0 ppg)
34 Gavin Schilling (6-9 Junior Forward, 3.8 ppg)
PLAYER TO WATCH
In 10 games since returning from injury, Valentine is averaging 20.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.2 assists, including 22.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists in the last eight contests. Before injury, he averaged 18.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists.
LAST TIME OUT
COLLEGE PARK, MD – Notice has been served: the Wisconsin Badgers are for real once again. Led by a career-high 21 points from Vitto Brown, UW picked a part No.2 Maryland on both ends of the floor for a convincing 70-57 victory at the Xfinity Center Saturday.
After starting the conference season 1-4, Wisconsin has won seven straight, including three over ranked opponents. Interim Head Coach Greg Gard, who possibly came one game closer to remove the 'interim' from his title, called it, “the most complete 40 minutes we've played this season.”
“I'm extremely proud of my guys,” he added, “and I couldn't be prouder to call myself their coach.”
After being held scoreless in the 63-60 loss to Maryland in Madison Jan.9, Brown delivered his second straight career-high scoring performance, including three 3-pointeres and seven rebounds, to give Maryland (22-4, 10-3) its first home loss to a conference team since joining the league last season, not to mention seeing its 27-game home winning streak end with a thud.
A first half dominated by Wisconsin, seeing the Badgers go on a 28-5 run after being down 14-7, carried throughout the game with tremendous balance. Wisconsin made 12 3-point field goals, 12 free throws and 11 2-point field goals, building a lead as big as 16 points in the first half that was never chipped below six.
“We've been saying we could play with anyone in the country for a while,” said junior Bronson Koenig, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half. “They beat us on a last second shot at home and it shows how much we've improved.”
The Terrapins started immediately on the attack after halftime, resulting in starters Ethan Happ and Zak Showalter each picking up their third and fourth fouls in the first 87 seconds.
Leaning heavily on the bench for the next eight minutes, Gard watched the Terrapins cut the Badgers’ lead to six at 10:48, as UW could only manage three 3-pointers with the two starters sitting. With the score 45-39, Gard called timeout, put Showalter and Happ back on the floor and rolled the dice.
Needing to stymie Maryland’s 18-9 run, Wisconsin rebuild the lead to 12, withstood another run that cut the lead to eight and put the game away for good on Showalter’s 3-pointer on a two offensive rebound possession and Brown’s 3-pointer on the next possession to make it 59-48 with 3:48 to go. The lead never dipped below 11 with UW closing the game 7-for-9 from the line.
After being put back on the floor, Showalter has six points, Happ had five rebounds, two steals and an assist and neither committed another foul, helping UW register a huge 20-4 edge in second chance points.
After hitting a 26-footer just before the buzzer that was the difference maker in the first meeting, Melo Trimble was pestered constantly by Wisconsin and finished with only 10 points on 1-for-14 shooting. Drawing the assignment, Nigel Hayes made up for a 4-for-12 shooting night by applying the pressure while his teammates squeeze the driving lanes. As a result, Trimble had five of the team’s 12 turnovers.
That resulted in Wisconsin started the game on a 7-2 run, weathering a 12-0 run and scoring the next 17 points with a combination of post touches, perimeter shots and free throws to take control of the game, especially with its defense holding Maryland without a point for 8:22 and without a field goal for 10:51.
MADISON – Ethan Happ delivered the play to finally get Wisconsin over the hump, hitting a reverse layup with 10.2 seconds left to lift the Badgers to a 77-76 victory over No.4 Michigan State at the Kohl Center.
“We’ve been on the wrong side … and we’ve had a couple tough losses in a row,” said Happ. “To beat a team like Michigan State, a tough team like Michigan State, it was really joyful to share that with my teammates.”
Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig combined to score a combined 51 points to help Wisconsin snap out of its three game conference losing streak and show that the defending Big Ten champions still have some fight, especially its two seasoned veterans.
Koenig shot above 40 percent for the first time since Jan.2 and scored a career-high 27 points, including a handful of deep 3-pointers in the face of Spartans senior guard Denzel Valentine, who simply threw up his hands as if to say “what could I do?”
“Koenig is a Spartan killer,” said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo of Koenig, whose 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left cut the deficit to 76-75. “He did the same thing in the Big Ten tournament that he did today.”
An outspoken critic of Wisconsin following Tuesday’s 70-65 loss at Northwestern, Hayes used harsh words to describe the play of himself, his teammates and vowed it would improve. Stewing on the loss for four days, Hayes delivered with 25 points (7-for-14 shooting) and seven rebounds.
But it was Happ who was the hero by shaking off a pair of turnovers and two missed free throws down the stretch to hit the winning bucket, a shot that came after initially bobbling the pass from Koenig and sticking with it with Matt Costello towering over him.
All the things that had crippled Wisconsin at points this season - not strong enough on the glass, not enough scoring contributors and not enough plays in crunch time – started to evaporate against a Michigan State team that has beaten everybody on its schedule not named Iowa.
Wisconsin scored 10 points on its final four possessions from four different sources, out rebounded Michigan State, 6-3, over the final four minutes and had Happ and Khalil Iverson force a critical turnover – trapping junior Eron Harris in front of UW’s bench and seeing him step out of bounds – to set up Happ’s winner.
Wisconsin had been 1-5 in one-possession games, including 0-3 at home.
The Spartans (16-3, 3-3) had two leads of at least four points in the final 2:10 after Valentine (23 points) hit repeated tough right-handed hook shots in the lane. Michigan State scored 34 points in the paint, compared to just 20 for Wisconsin, but the free throw line made the difference.
Wisconsin went 29-for-36 (80.6 percent), including 7-for-7 from Koenig, 9-for-10 from Hayes and 8-for-13 from Happ, while Michigan State went only 12-for-16 (75 percent). One of those misses was by Valentine with 2:10 remaining on MSU’s last attempt. In the loss to Northwestern four days earlier, UW went just 10-for-13 from the line.
Wisconsin hasn’t traveled to East Lansing since 2013 but has faced MSU five times at home or a neutral location since then.
UW has gone 17-12 (.586) vs. the Spartans under Bo Ryan/Greg Gard. That’s the best record by a Big Ten team against Michigan State during that time frame and the only team with a winning record. Illinois is second at 12-14 (.462).
Wisconsin has not won at the Breslin Center since a 68-64 OT victory in 2004. MSU has won the last eight meetings in East Lansing.
Including Thursday’s matchup, at least one team has been ranked in 29 of the last 30 meetings.
Over the last 20 meetings vs. MSU, the Badgers have limited the Spartans to an average of 60.6 ppg.
Since 2012-13, the Badgers are 10-7 against top-10 opponents.
No Big Ten team has more RPI top-100 wins than Wisconsin. Badgers have registered 8 wins over the RPI top 100 (and 4 over the top 50), equaling Michigan State and Maryland. Those two are also the only teams with more top-50 wins than UW (Michigan State 6, Maryland 5).
UW’s seven-game win streak is the nation’s longest among major conference teams. In that span UW has increased its scoring from 68.6 to 72.7 ppg.
UW’s four Big Ten losses have come by an average of 3.8 points. Overall, the Badgers have played a total of eight games decided by three points or less, third-most in the nation.
Shooting 36.2 percent from deep and averaging 6.3 made 3FGs per game on the year, UW has gone 36-for-66 (.545) from long range over the last three games.
MICHIGAN STATE NOTES
Michigan State is 362-56 (.866) at home all-time since Breslin Center opened in 1989, including 187-43 (.813) in Big Ten play. Under Tom Izzo, the Spartans are 288-41 (.875) at Breslin, including a 146-30 (.830) conference record.
Michigan State has made 230 3-pointers this season, averaging 8.8 per contest. Should the Spartans maintain their current pace they will shatter the current record of 8.1 3-pointers per game established in 2013-14.
Michigan State averages 79.8 points per game, which currently stands as the highest average in Tom Izzo’s 21 seasons.
The Spartans rank in the Top 20 nationally in scoring defense (18th, 63.8), field-goal percentage defense (4th, .373) and 3-point field-goal percentage defense (8th, .294). Just 11 teams have shot better than 40 percent from the field and just nine have bettered 35 percent behind the 3-point arc.
When given the question, Howard Moore couldn’t give a specific answer.
After the former UW player and assistant coach joined Greg Gard’s staff in December, Moore had an idea of some of the pieces on Wisconsin’s roster from his brief time as a Big Ten Network analyst and fan of the program but most of the characteristics and attributes of the young roster were new to him.
So when asked what player had made the biggest leap over Wisconsin’s seven game winning streak, Moore had a laundry list of players he needed to point out.
“It really has been a total elevation of the group,” he said. “You can mention guys like Khalil because the minutes he’s getting are really meaningful minutes and situations where he’s got to perform for us. Illikainen has been in that role for a good stretch of the season for us. I think Charlie is starting to figure it out. He’s had some ups and downs, which is what freshmen go through, but different guys have had this emergence throughout this stretch.”
Hayes has been one of those players on a role. After averaging 15.8 points on 38.1 percent shooting in the first 18 games of the year, Hayes is averaging 20.4 points on 44.1 percent during the winning streak. Hayes has also scored 25 points in each of his last two meetings with the Spartans.
Koenig has also played well against Michigan State, averaging 22.5 ppg in his last two games against the Spartans, and has earned the nickname “the Spartan killer” from Izzo. But since Koenig’s career-high 27 points against MSU last month, the junior is averaging only 10.7 points and has shot 40 percent or less four times. When asked about Koenig’s play, Moore wasn’t concerned, especially with Koenig committing only four turnovers in his last 121 minutes on the court.
“It’s one thing when you see a guy struggling and he’s not really finding his niche, but now you see him just playing,” said Moore. “Whatever he was dealing with, he put it aside and said, look, I’m going to focus on a better defender and finding teammates when they are open. You go back to the Michigan State game. His pass to Ethan on that roll was huge. He could have easily took a step back and took a tough, difficult shot, but he found Ethan on the roll, he scored and that was a game-winning shot. Taking yourself out of the equation sometimes can help you move forward.”
Breslin Center has been a tough environment for Wisconsin over the last 12 years. After the Badgers registered a 68-64 overtime victory on March 2, 2004, Wisconsin has gone winless in East Lansing on its last eight trips.
Despite the recent ugly history, Wisconsin hasn’t traveled to Michigan State since 2013. How different are the Badgers in just three years? Among the current roster, only Zak Showalter has played at the Breslin Center and that was for just one minute in the 15-point loss.
The lack of experience is neither a positive nor a negative for head coach Greg Gard.
"It will be a possession-by-possession game, just like Saturday night's game,” said Gard. “That's how you win in any road game. I don't think it's been the venue, so to speak, that we've gone into, whether it be Michigan State or Maryland. I think it's because Maryland has been very good; the team they have on the floor is very good. Coach (Tom) Izzo's teams that he puts on the floor are very good and sometimes the venue gets overblown.”
"Obviously, the fan base there (at Michigan State) is terrific,” he continued. “That's a great environment for college basketball. But as I told the team Saturday night before we were in the pregame, those 17- or 18,000 that are in there, they don't matter. They don't play defense, they don't rebound, they can't shoot, so it's just our five against their five.”
The job at hand will be a challenge tonight, maybe even more so than it was on Saturday in College Park. Having won five of its past six games, including a 19-point win over Indiana Sunday, Michigan State – like they always do - is starting to crescendo toward March and have done it adjusting on the fly without its point guard in Tum Tum Narin Jr.
Valentine working at the one and Fobes and Harris on the wings have given the offense flow within that structure. And while the emergence of Davis has made the Spartans tougher, Moore said Izzo’s number one guy is Costello, who is a double-double threat every night.
“You’ve seen it time and time again on those Coach Izzo teams, a senior has that moment when the light comes on,” said Moore. “It’s like the Matrix: I’m the one and he believes! Costello believes and you can see it. His numbers have gone up. His points per game are three points higher than the nonconference, his rebounds have gone up, he’s getting to the free throw line way more than anyone else on the team right now, so you see that light has gone on in a player and everyone is following in their path. It’s going to be a tough assignment for us.”
Wisconsin caught Michigan State at the right time, the first game without Narin. The Badgers won’t be that fortunate this time. UW has certainly grown over the past month, and last Saturday showed how good the Badgers can be when everybody pulls their weight and does their part, but the Spartans are sound defensively (holding teams to 37.3 percent), shoot the ball well from 3-point range (42.3 percent), distribute the ball better than anyone (20.7 assists) and have been better at not fouling over the last seven games.
Maryland does a lot of things really well, too, and that didn’t matter to UW. I just have a hard time thinking UW can steal another big game on the road, especially with how well Michigan State is starting to play. Spartans by eight.
Worgull's Record: 18-7
Points off Prediction: 233 (9.3 per game)