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Game Thread and Preview: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin

TUESDAY, JANUARY 3rd, 2012, 7:00 PM EST
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network

I’m quite sure Wisconsin didn’t plan on welcoming Michigan State tonight reeling from a home loss to Iowa. It’ll be interesting to see how Wisconsin responds. Is this evidence of real trouble in Badgerland or is Wisconsin going to come out plodding on all cylinders and deliver a classic Kohl Center strangulation?

I jest about Wisconsin plodding but over their opening games Bo Ryan’s team is back up to their standard 60 possessions/game after dipping last year to a "slow-for-them" 57.7. Sixty per game still ranks them among the lowest in the nation and Iowa made some points by getting 66 possessions out of the stingy Badgers. The Hawkeyes also won by hitting nearly 50% of their FGs while showing restraint from behind the arc (2 of 6). In turn, Wisconsin played the exact opposite game, launching 28 deep shots but only hitting 3.

Much has been made about the drop-off in production by Jordan Taylor. He was supposed to be prepping for a monster senior year as the unquestioned focal point of the Wisconsin attack but his PPG are down by 5.4 and his shooting has suffered greatly. Getting him going is a key to keeping Wisconsin from continuing to slide against MSU. In juxtaposition, this is great opportunity for a hot Keith Appling to confirm himself as one of the Big Ten’s elite point guards. Who gets the best of this match-up could be the difference.

After Taylor, Wisconsin has a classic Badger forward in 6’10" junior Jared Berggren. With the departure of Jon Leuer and Kenton Kankivil, Berggren has seen his minutes jump from 7 to almost 27. Like his predecessors, he’s not afraid to shoot from any distance but he was ice cold against Iowa. Berggren has struggled early since a very productive non-conference performance. Wisconsin also has a response to Branden Dawson with Ryan Evans, another junior and 6’6" wing. Evans leads the Badgers in rebounding from his wing spot and had a big start to conference play getting 22 and 6 against Nebraska. He’s also been in double figures for 8 of Wisconsin’s 15 games and averages 10.4.

Two straight road wins to start the Big Ten season would be huge for MSU and a victory would still be an upset tonight. MSU's respectable ball security and unselfish play should help the Spartans make the most of those scant possessions. This isn’t a Wisconsin team with great size and it may be difficult for them to challenge the frontline of Green, Nix, Payne, and Dawson. It’s difficult to predict a victory @Wisconsin but the Badgers definitely look vulnerable tonight. Let’s steal one on the road!