Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose: Wisconsin Preview

(Still) Your MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS vs. the WISCONSIN BADGERS
THE KOHL CENTER, MADISON, WISCONSIN
SUNDAY: 1:00 PM ET

TV: CBS (Gus Johnson, Clark Kellogg)
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network

 

At this point, previewing the opponent hardly seems worthwhile.  MSU's performance level hasn't correlated too closely at all with opponent quality over the last several games.  So we'll keep this short.

If ever the statement "They don't beat themselves" applied to a team, it applies to this Badgers squad.  Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in conference-only offensive efficiency (1.16) almost entirely on the strength of of turning the ball over on just 10.5% of their possessions and missing just 14.8% of their shots from the free throw line.  Those are both insanely-low numbers for a team halfway through its conference schedule.

Wisconsin's been pretty good on defense too, ranking 3rd in the Big Ten in conference-only efficiency (1.03).  Opponents are making only 33.1% of their three-point attempts and pulling down just 28.7% of offensive rebounding opportunities.

The Badgers have gone 4-1 since losing to MSU in the comeback OT thriller in East Lansing, winning at home against Illinois, Indiana, and Purdue and splitting road games against Penn State (loss) and Northwestern (win).  Bo Ryan has the team operating at standard levels of computer-impressing efficiency; four of Wisconsin's six Big Ten wins have been by double digits, while all three loses have been in single digits.

Jon Leuer has upped his game even further, averaging 21.4 points/game over the last five games (converting 19 of 20 free throws attempts over that period).  Delvon Roe will have a tough task replicating his defensive mastery of over Leuer the first time the teams met (Leuer was 3-9 from the field in that game).  Jordan Taylor's been consistently good throughout Big Ten play, averaging 19.7 points/game, while Keaton Nankivil has given the team a very dangerous third scoring option by making 54.8% of his 3-point attempts in conference play.

On the Spartan side of the equation, psychoanalysis is the only game left in town.  From Rexrode:

    A three-hour meeting Thursday included the players signing a board in the team's film room. The non-seniors signed their commitment to the seniors. The seniors signed their commitment to the rest of the team. Then they all prayed together.

    What does it mean?

    "Right now it pretty much means nothing," Durrell Summers said. "Actions speak louder than words."

While a three-hour team meeting doesn't guarantee anything at all in terms of improved performance, it certainly would have been a bad sign if the team hadn't talked at length about pulling together and pulling up out of this nosedive.  (On the other hand, I could have done without the various player quotes about teammates in that Rexrode post.  Derrick Nix, in particular, could probably be a little less opinionated about other players considering he's only been making major contributions for two games.  Get it all out of your system, I guess.)

(Also on the psychoanalysis front: While it seems pretty silly to count an ALL CAPS tweet as a positive indicator, if there's any individual anywhere with the credibility to pull this team together right now, Travis Walton is probably that guy.)

On paper, and off the paper for that matter, this game looks like as a big a longshot any MSU has faced in a long time: a road game in a place the team rarely wins even when it's playing well against a team that appears to be peaking in terms of offensive efficiency while attempting to bounce back from an utterly abysmal loss.  KenPom predicts a 65-55 Wisconsin win, and that feels generous.

If there's a positive spin here, it's this: At this point, absolutely no one anywhere expects MSU to win this game.  Maybe with the burden of expectations completely lifted, the team relaxes a bit on offense and starts making shots.  If they come out with the intensity that the locker room come-to-Jesus moment would signal (in a Disney movie, at least), the defense could follow suit.

That's right: I'm telling you there's maybe some hope because there is no hope.  I told you this preview may not be all that worthwhile.

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