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Michigan State Spartans Big Ten Tournament Basketball Preview: Wisconsin

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Previewing the Big Ten Tournament Championship against the Badgers

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The First Game

Wisconsin was clinical; they put up 1.19 points per possession and that was fortunate to some degree considering that they shot just 28.6% from three. Frank Kaminsky tossed up a casual 31 points, helped by the fact that nobody guarded him on the perimeter and he was able to go 3-4 from three. Nigel Hayes was incredibly effective in the post early, posting 14 points on 6-8 shooting.

Wisconsin rebounded the ball quite well on both ends, and that seems like an easy spot for MSU improvement in the rematch. Unfortunately, it feels like a stretch to assume MSU will take care of the ball better than Wisconsin does for a second straight game.

The final score of 68-61 was a little misleading as MSU hit a bunch of meaningless late shots. The score was 66-53 with just under 2 minutes remaining. The rest was garbage time.

What's Changed

Well, since the game was played just two weeks ago, pretty much nothing. Traevon Jackson is still out due to his broken foot. The rotations for both teams are the same.

This MSU team, though, has appeared to jell together some in the interceding weeks. Wins over Purdue, Indiana, Ohio State, and Maryland have all occurred since that March 1st loss to Wisconsin.

The Badgers

Lets hope the "we let them off the hook" part doesn't apply here. But, it's true, they are who we thought they were: plodding, lethal offensively (#1 Offensive Efficiency in the nation), and yet still somehow terrible to watch live. Oh and also, they just don't commit fouls. It's science.

More seriously, their defense has improved to top-30 levels nationally according to KenPom. They do that by rebounding the ball well defensively (#4 in the nation) and not fouling (#1 in the nation). With their length, I expected them to have a better eFG%, but they're merely pretty good at #68 in the nation.

One item of interest is that Wisconsin employs a very short bench, playing the starting 5 more than 30 minutes per game. Additionally, typically just 7 or 8 guys play, with Duje Dukan getting the most run. Considering that this is the third game in three days for this team, energy level could be a major factor.

The Spartans

It's totally amazing to me the way that guys have identified, and then executed, their roles late in the season. That's what makes this team so fun to watch when they're clicking. But it's like Chris Traeger's immune system: runs like a microchip unless a bit of dust gets into it. Then who knows what's going to happen.

Can we chat about Travis Trice for a second? He not only posted a 20-4-3 line but also single-handedly kept MSU in the game against Maryland in the first half. He's scored at least 16 points in every game dating back to the second Michigan game. He'll put the team directly onto his back, and it has been completely amazing to watch.

Bryn Forbes posted 21 points on 5-5 three point shooting against Wisconsin in the first game. That's not likely to continue, and Forbes has been slumping, but I still think it would behoove Izzo to get him involved early. He's got the ability to open things up for others if Wisconsin has to pay special attention to him on the perimeter.

I'm also kind of hoping for some additional Colby Wollenman action tomorrow. One issue MSU had in the first game was that Dawson and Marvin Clark both seemed ill-equipped to handle Nigel Hayes in the post. #SWollenman seems like he'd be up to that task, but it might necessitate going especially big with Clark or Dawson playing the 3. That might not be a problem, considering the need for rebounding.

Prediction

During Penn State's upset of Iowa on Thursday, Coach Pat Chambers wrote this:

I found this to be a particularly strong and simple message. Expectations cloud possibilities.

For the entire season, the narrative for this Michigan State team is that this would be a "rebuilding" year after the losses of Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling. That seemed to be confirmed in non-conference play, with no quality wins, a squeaker against Navy, and a home loss to Texas Southern.

That also seemed to be the case after a home loss to Illinois that put this MSU team at 15-8, including 6-4 in Big Ten play. We got all the way down to BUBBLECON 3. There was much hand-wringing in the aftermath of that Illinois game.

But here's the rub: this team has been sneaky-good all year. Some of the losses: Kansas by 5 (neutral), Notre Dame by 1 (away), Maryland by 2 (home). There have been two double-digit losses all season: one to Duke on a neutral floor (and just barely, that was by 10) and Maryland on the road. That's indicative of a team that is of solid quality and managed to lose more than their share of close games.

And since that Illinois game, this team is 8-2 with wins against Ohio State (x2), Maryland, Purdue and Indiana. And they've managed to start winning some close games (if that's a particular skill).

That preseason narrative and set of expectations have continued to play a major part in the way I feel about this team, and that bothers me. I want to be as objective as possible.

So, let me ask this : Why Not Us?

MSU 54 - Wisconsin 51