For a team that relies so heavily on its inside game and the productivity of junior center Paul Davis, it is Michigan State's backcourt that really gives opponents. The Spartans deep guard corps is versatile offensively and adept at getting it done on the defensive end as well.
Among the six players averaging double-digit scoring for MSU five are guards including starters senior Chris Hill (10.4 points per game), senior Alan Anderson (12.8), junior Maurice Ager (14.2) and sophomore Shannon Brown (11.8).
Defensively, the Spartans' athleticism has created mismatches all season, clogging passing lanes to create pressure at all times. Michigan State has forced opponents into 18.1 turnovers per game this season and has the UW backcourt's attention.
"Getting out and being pressured a little more than normal, because they [Michigan State] tend to extend," senior Clayton Hanson said. "That's what we tried work on the last couple days. With their guards, they have all the weapons. They're athletic, they got shooters, they play defense … there is not too many weaknesses there and that's what we are preparing for."
Michigan State's stifling defense is complemented by an explosive offense which is averaging 84.4 points per game this season and 85.5 in conference play — a product of consistency and stability.
Leading the Spartans' attack is Hill, the team's starting point guard and leader in assists (4.7 per game) and steals (1.8 per game). His 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio also leads the Big Ten and paces a team averaging 18 assists and 10.5 turnovers per game in conference play. In his last three outings, Hill has tallied 19 assists and zero turnovers and is much of the reason for Michigan State's undefeated start to the Big Ten regular season.
"The statistic tells the story this year," Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said. "If you're taking care of the ball, if you're getting it to the right people, if you're making good decisions, you always have a chance to be successful."
But more than his statistical production, Hill's experience, along with that of the rest of the guards, is what is irreplaceable and has paved the way for the Spartans consistent efforts night in and night out. In fact, the trio of Hill, Anderson and senior Kelvin Torbert has made 259 career starts, making them the most experienced trio in the Big Ten.
"They'll be some of the tougher guards we'll face this year," Taylor said. "They have experience and they've played together for a while so they are on the same page with each other. We are starting to find that with each other now. We feel like we are getting more and more comfortable out there with our rotations and just playing with each other and it's getting better each time we go out there."
Taylor will be called upon to play big minutes again Sunday for the Badgers off the bench and his impact will be greatly needed to help match a deep MSU attack off the bench.
Taylor is one of three Badgers scoring double digits per game during conference play (11.7), and combines with the three other guards to score 30.4 points per game as a backcourt.
Aside from their point production, Taylor feels the biggest impact the UW guards can have in the game is dictating the tempo.
"We have to be able to set the tempo and maintain it even when the bench is called upon," Taylor said. "As much as our scoring is needed, we get our shots because we play outside-inside. From what we have seen about Michigan State, they do a lot of the same thing too. So we have to deny them and execute."
What: Michigan State (2-0 Big Ten, 10-2 Overall)
at Wisconsin (2-1, 11-3)
When: Sunday, Jan. 16 at 12:36 p.m.
Where: Kohl Center (17,142) Madison, Wis.
Broadcasts: The game will be televised nationally by CBS. It can be also heard live on the Wisconsin Radio Network (WIBA 1310 AM and 101.5 FM in Madison).
Series Notes: Michigan State leads the all-time series 63-52 but the Badgers hold a 37-22 advantage in games played in Madison. UW has won the last five contests.