I spent some time asking Phil Mitten (@HoopsMarinara) about the impending Wisconsin matchup. He also asked me some questions, which I answered here.
TOC: What's the status of Traevon Jackson? Might he play against MSU?
Phil Mitten, Bucky's 5th Quarter: Jackson has not even been cleared to join practice yet, missing again on Saturday. Despite Jackson's insistence that he'd play last week, he won't be a factor.
TOC: It seems like Bo Ryan has been rolling with a very tight bench, with just 8 guys playing regularly and only the starting 5 playing more than 15 minutes. Could this hurt Wisconsin down the stretch? Does anyone get into foul trouble?
PM: The bench production has been the hot button issue of late. Fatigue seems to be a growing issue, but it's hard to gauge how much that is affecting game outcomes. The player most affected would be Josh Gasser, who always has important defensive duties on the perimeter. Increased minutes could have something to do with his 3-for-17 shooting on three-pointers over the last five games, a huge dip from his season average.
With no reliable guards off the bench right now, Ryan is using bigger lineups more often, meaning a Nigel Hayes or Sam Dekker might be guarding smaller, quicker guys further from the basket. Hayes found himself in foul trouble the other night guarding Dez Wells. That wouldn't have been a problem before, but Duje Dukan is in a horrendous shooting slump as well. With three out of its final four games on the road against the cream of the Big Ten crop, UW is treading on thin ice if it wants to wrap up an outright title. Wisconsin is getting everyone's best shot and it takes energy to make that intensity.
TOC: This Wisconsin team has been a juggernaut, but there has to be a weakness in the underbelly somewhere. Where have teams had some success against the Badgers?
PM: The key is balance. Two or three long, athletic bodies up front can keep Frank Kaminsky from going off, but more importantly hold the Badgers at bay on the glass. On the perimeter, aggressive guards like Wells and D.J. Newbill have been the most successful, going off for 26 and 29 points, respectively, in the last month. Wisconsin has issues with players taking them off the dribble, yet the help defense is good enough that the supporting cast has to hit the open looks penetration creates.
I am most interested to see the Wisconsin defense handle all the MSU playmakers. The Badgers are willing to let individuals beat them in exchange for disrupting the rest of an opponent's offense (37.5 % assist rate allowed is best in the nation), which will be a test of wills versus a Spartan group that assists on 64.8% of its field goals (good for fourth in the country).
TOC: Any chance of the upset on the road by MSU here? Care to venture a prediction?
PM: Always a chance. In fact, Brandon Dawson and Travis Trice are 6-1 lifetime against Wisconsin, so the venue won't phase them. However, the events of the last week may have altered my opinion. This always looked like a tough game on the scheduled, but the Spartans seem a half-step behind where they usually are at this time of the season. And with the loss to Maryland and no more home games, this is basically a must-win for Wisconsin if it wants to keep the Big Ten title for itself.
Thanks to Phil for answering some questions!