Previewing MSU vs. Wisconsin

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Game time: 9 p.m. ET
Location: Jack Breslin Student Events Center, East Lansing, Mich.
TV: ESPN
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Radio: Spartan Sports Network

Somehow, MSU still has a chance.

With every loss, MSU's Big Ten hopes seem to go down the toilet. But they keep coming back (not that anyone's complaining). Ohio State's win at Indiana leaves an outside shot for a four-way tie for the title. But for MSU to be involved (and before possibly needing to root for a rival), it has to win the #BorderBattle. The Badgers are also one of the four second-place teams hoping for a title split, so there's plenty to play for.

I'm sure you all have memories of a certain time when Wisconsin ended MSU's Big Ten hopes at Breslin Center.

In January, the Spartans won 49-47 in Madison, capping a six-game winning streak. It was a typical ugly game, with both teams shooting below 40 percent (Wisconsin below 30). But that's what these teams do. Thursday's game will not be considered a pretty game.

The Badgers sit at No. 8 in KenPom, having been No. 5 before a stunning 69-56 home loss to Purdue on Sunday (which was a bigger upset than Penn State over Michigan, by KP probability). So both teams come in licking some wounds.

The Badgers are No. 31 in adjO, but just No. 7 in conference play. They shoot 34.2 percent on 3s (No. 156) and 48.6 percent on 2s (No. 126). Neither of those numbers are particularly impressive. They turn the ball over just 15.1 percent of the time, which is No. 2 in the country.

They don't get to the line very often (29.9 FTR, No. 314) and they don't shoot well when they are there (62.6 percent, No. 329). They're down to 60.6 percent in Big Ten play. In the first meeting of these teams, Wisconsin went 5-for-13 at the line, including a 2-for-8 performance from Jared Berggren (who is normally a good shooter). MSU opponents are shooting just 69.2 percent in Big Ten play, perhaps making up for all the field goals opponent didn't miss in football season.

Berggren leads the Badgers with 11.6 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. His usage rate is just 21.3 (second on the team), but he has an offensive rating of 117.3. Sam Dekker (9.6 points, 45 percent on 3s) actually has the team's highest offensive rating at 121.4 among regular contributors. Guard Ben Brust averages 11.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists, while Ryan Evans averages 10.4 points, 7.6 rebounds with an odd team-leading 26.6 usage rate. Evans also has been so bad at FTs (42 percent) that he's now taking jump-shot free throws.

Seven players average at least 16 minutes, with Frank Kaminsky at 9.9 minutes.

Defensively, the Badgers are as good as ever: No. 3 in the nation in adjD. Opponents shoot 30.6 percent on 2s (No. 38) and 42.3 percent on 3s (No. 19). In conference play, they're No. 1 in adjD, opp2P% and opp3P%. They're also No. 1 in not allowing opponents to the free-throw line. Like the MSU defenses of the past, they rely on opponents taking bad shots, not turning the ball over. The defensive turnover% is just 18.4 percent (No. 271).

Given MSU's turnover problems in the last three games, this could be a matchup that lets them hold onto the ball. When MSU doesn't turn the ball over, the offense is usually pretty good. In the first meeting, MSU had just 10 turnovers and a TO% of 18.5.

When these teams met in January, only two MSU players had more than six points. Keith Appling had 19 points and six rebounds, while Branden Dawson had 18 points and 13 rebounds. Those two aren't exactly on the hottest of streaks coming into this one. Gary Harris was the only other Spartan with multiple field goals, scoring six points on 2-for-3 shooting.

The Badgers do a great job preventing MSU's inside offense from setting up. Derrick Nix often struggles defensively against the versatile Wisconsin centers, but he and Adreian Payne 2-for-7 for four points combined with eight rebounds. I don't know how much Nix will be able to get into his flow, but those rebound numbers will have to be better. Payne will need to drive to the bucket a bit and will likely take some outside shots.

This isn't a game I expect MSU will be able to pound Wisconsin inside, though that would certainly go a long way. Appling and Gary Harris will need to hit some outside shots, and Dawson will need to score inside using his athletic ability. That hasn't been a winning formula of late for MSU. Neither have been plays out of timeouts.

Games against Wisconsin are always hard-fought slugfests. The Izzone should be smaller, since it's spring break, but playing in front of the home crowd for the first time in more than two weeks should help the Spartans with energy. Perhaps this could be the comeback games for Appling and/or Dawson.

KenPom projects a 59-57 win for MSU, giving the Spartans a 69 percent chance. MSU has won four straight over the Badgers.

This game's importance has varied each week. But the craziness of the Big Ten has provided both of the teams with one more shot at a championship, giving this the makings of another classic in this rivalry.

#BorderBattle

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