Wisconsin’s senior class has had its fair share of road triumphs. Going 22-12 on the road over the last four years, Wisconsin’s senior class has won in every Big Ten venue with the exception of two - Rutgers and Michigan State. Although Wisconsin’s seniors are 4-2 in their careers against Michigan State, the seniors lost their only road game in East Lansing, coming last February.
Wisconsin’s seniors will have one more chance to win inside the Breslin Center but winning in East Lansing has been difficult for the program, having lost nine consecutive games dating back to 2004. Despite Michigan State’s struggles this year, the Spartans have stayed tough at home, posting a 7-1 record and averaging 75.1 points over their conference home games.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten) as they prepare to play Michigan State (17-11, 9-6).
LAY UP: THE PLAY OF TRICE
True freshman D'Mitrik Trice was one of the lone bright spots against Ohio State, as he was second to Bronson Koenig with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting from the field in 17 minutes of work in his return to his home state. Trice will attempt to duplicate his performance in a pseudo homecoming when he makes his debut inside an arena where his brother Travis Trice had success in.
Although Koenig reclaimed his starting spot against the Buckeyes, Trice did well coming off the bench of moving without the ball to put himself in position to have success offensively.
With the rest of the offense struggling, Trice is providing another scoring threat. Since scoring zero points in the overtime win against Nebraska, the freshman has been able to step up his offensive game to give UW another scoring option. In the last four games, Trice has started to become more aggressive and hunting his shot. Despite shooting 32.5 percent (13-for-40) from the field, he has averaged 10.2 points per game over that stretch and has gone 6-for-15 (40 percent) from three.
Trice has shot 11-for-35 (31.4 percent) from three on an average of 2.3 3-point field goal attempts a game over conference play, but his success of late has been important with opposing Big Ten teams attempting to take away Wisconsin’s post game. Trice is coming off a game where he went 4-for-6 from three, tying his season-high for perimeter makes.
Michigan State has been steady defending the 3-point line this year, allowing teams to shoot 34.8 percent over conference play. Koenig will get the attention once he gets the ball on the perimeter to make sure he can’t create enough space to attempt an open shot, making it important that Trice is ready to catch and shoot against the Spartans defense.
MID-RANGE JUMPER: CAN WISCONSIN GENERATE POST TOUCHES?
It has been hit and miss for Wisconsin’s interior presence over the last five games. Although averaging 24 points in the paint over that stretch, Wisconsin scored a Big Ten-low 12 in the lane against Northwestern and 18 in the loss to Ohio State. In the three other games, they registered at least 26 points around the rim.
The inconsistency by Wisconsin in the post could be an issue considering the Spartans have allowed an average of 29.1 points in the paint over conference play. Like Wisconsin’s struggles over the recent stretch, the Spartans’ post defense has sagged as of late. Despite holding six of their first 10 conference opponents to 28 points or fewer in the paint, the Spartans have allowed teams to average 32.8 points in the paint over the last five games.
As important as Ethan Happ is to Wisconsin’s success on offense, the Badgers can’t afford to have the sophomore register four points on five field goal attempts like he did against Ohio State, both Big Ten lows for him. Wisconsin needs to take pressure off of Happ, meaning Nigel Hayes has got to step up his performances.
With defenses paying more attention to Happ, the Badgers need Hayes to be aggressive throughout the game, generate quality looks for himself around the hoop or get to the free throw line. Hayes leads the team in free throw attempts with 162 and attempted a team-high seven against Ohio State but finished with only six shot attempts.
Hayes’ aggressiveness opens up other opportunities for his teammates, especially with his ability as a passer. Hayes has led Wisconsin in assists 10 times this season, an important trait going against a Michigan State team holding opponents to 42.3 percent from the field.
Michigan State has the right personnel to defend Wisconsin in the post, as they allow 69.4 points per game and are their third in Big Ten with 4.5 blocks per game. If Koenig can carry over his strong performance against Ohio State, helping create a balance on offense, it could lead to Happ and Hayes having some opportunities in the paint.
3-POINTER: CONTAINING BRIDGES
Miles Bridges certainly has found success in his first year in East Lansing considering he leads Michigan State in points (16.3 per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game). With Eron Harris out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Bridges’ responsibilities for Michigan State will continue to grow.
After missing State’s first two Big Ten games due to an ankle injury, Bridges has come on strong with 11 straight games in double figures and has averaged 18.1 points per game over that stretch. He has also registered two double-doubles over the last four games and has made at least one 3-pointer in 11 straight games, shooting an average of 45.4 percent (25-for-55) over that stretch.
Hayes will draw the assignment of defending Bridges and will be responsible to take one of Michigan State’s most consistent scoring threats out of the game. In particular Hayes will need to make sure Bridges can’t do his work around the basket, considering he has shot 50.8 percent (31-for-61) from the field over the last five games.
Bridges’ ability to post defenders on the block has led to Michigan State averaging 31.1 points in the paint over conference play, including 42 points against the Huskers Wednesday. Wisconsin limiting teams to an average 21.4 points in the paint over Big Ten play will be tested, making it important for Hayes to take Bridges out of his comfort on offense.
With Bridges demonstrating his balance on offense, the Badgers will need to take advantage with aggressive defense. The freshman is second on the team with 58 turnovers and has committed at least four turnovers three times over the last five games. The Spartans average 14.5 turnovers and if Hayes – who has six steals over his last seven games - can create one, Wisconsin will need to find a way to cash in on the mistake.