When: Tuesday, March 2, 2004, 6 p.m. CST
Site: Breslin Center (14,759) East Lansing, Mich.
Broadcasts: ESPN, Wisconsin Radio Network
Series Notes: MSU holds a 63-50 series lead and a 38-13 edge in East Lansing.
For No. 17 Wisconsin to earn at least a share of this season's Big Ten title, they'll have to win as many conference road games this week as they have this entire season: two.
Entering the final week of the regular season, the Badgers stand third in the conference and remain one game back in the loss column, yet are still the highest ranked team in the Big Ten nationally.
The Badgers' first obstacle this week will be Tuesday night versus conference-leading Michigan State, who can clinch at worst a share of the conference title with a win.
However, for head coach Bo Ryan and his Badgers, riding high off a dominating victory over Purdue Sunday on Senior Night, they will need to adjust to being the visitor when Michigan State salutes its seniors during its own regular season home finale.
"I think Michigan State (poses) its own set of challenges, were hoping to present some challenges for them," Ryan said. "But I think we go into two senior nights or days this week and sometimes, emotionally, that's the key."
After losing their conference regular season opener to the Badgers Jan. 10, the Spartans, currently ranked 25th in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, have won 12 of 14 games, nine of their last 10 and five in a row.
Behind the improved play of its trio of junior starters, forward Alan Anderson and guards Chris Hill and Kelvin Torbert, MSU continues to improve in all facets, especially offensively. Coach Tom Izzo has stated publicly that his team can go as far as these three players can take them and when they play well together, they are one of the toughest teams in the nation to stop. The Spartans are 6-1 in games where all three score in double figures, including a 4-0 record in Big Ten games.
While much of the Spartans' early troubles surrounded their inability to consistently put the ball in the hoop, all has changed as MSU currently leads the conference in field-goal percentage (.533), 3-point field-goal percentage (.433) and free-throw percentage (.779).
"Now they are shooting it so much better and playing with that type of confidence," Ryan said. "When the ball is going down it is contagious. You can see that in the second half against Purdue just in a mini-view of our game. But they've been doing it for weeks now and I think that is all a result of getting to an eight and eight – eight home, eight away in the conference. Once they got home they played a lot better because of that."
On top of that, their stifling, typical Izzo-type defense has found a groove, especially in the confines of the Breslin Center where the team is 12-1 this season. MSU has held its last eight opponents to 43.1 percent shooting, but more impressive is the fact that they are allowing conference opponents to shoot only 23.2 percent from beyond the arc for the season. In fact, the Spartans have given up only 16 3-pointers during their last five games.
To put that in perspective, the Badgers have tallied 18 trifectas in the last three games.
Wisconsin junior forward Mike Wilkinson, fresh off his third double-double of the season, will lock up with MSU sophomore center Paul Davis. Davis has scored in double figures in 21 of 26 games this season, including seven games with 20 points or more. His presence down low will have to be countered, if not bettered, by Wilkinson in order for UW to set the tempo, take the crowd out of the game and grab a win on the road.
By the Numbers:
3 – The number of consecutive games Wisconsin has won over Michigan State. It is UW's longest winning streak versus the Spartans in more than 14 years.
15.33 – MSU's assists per game, second in the Big Ten.
0 – The number of MSU losses this season when holding teams less than 60 points.
17.1 – Michigan State's average number of turnovers in nine losses this season, 3.2 more than when they win.
1.41 – UW's conference leading assist-to-turnover ratio.