Following a blowout loss to Purdue, The Michigan State Spartans look to rebound at home tonight against the Wisconsin Badgers. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. EST at the Breslin Center, and will be broadcast on FS1.
To help us get a better glimpse into what this Wisconsin team has to offer, I spoke with Drew Hamm, site manager at Bucky’s 5th Quarter — SB Nation’s quintessential website for all things Wisconsin Badgers.
Check out our conversation below:
1. So far Wisconsin is 11-6 overall with a 4-2 record. It seems like consistency has escaped this team with a few questionable losses, and a couple impressive wins. Is the team’s performance on par with what you expected heading into the season? What do the Badgers do well and what would you like to see them improve upon?
Drew: Record wise I think this is right where most Badgers fans had Wisconsin pegged this far into the season, their route was just a strange way to get there. In fact, before each season my buddies and I pick each game and I had the Badgers at exactly 11-6 at this point. Lose to New Mexico and Richmond in Brooklyn but win at Ohio State, at Tennessee and beat Maryland at home? Sure, why the hell not!?! This team has been full of surprises this year and, quite frankly, viewers aren’t quite sure which Wisconsin team is going to show up until about five minutes into each game.
The Badgers do well what, stereotypically, you think they’d do well. They don’t turn the ball over, after losing Ethan Happ to graduation they make a lot of their free throws, they use up most of the shot clock looking for the right shot and they play stout defense. In conference play, their offense has been highly efficient too, something that was lacking in their non-conference losses from this fall. It would be great if they could get a few more second-chance points on offense, but that’s not really their style and more wishful thinking on my part. It would also be great if (head coach) Greg Gard could do what all of the coaches on Twitter want and use their exact rotations so everyone isn’t so mad all the time (if you aren’t around Wisconsin fans much online, everyone was outraged about Micah Potter not playing down the stretch against Maryland...a game Wisconsin won by the way).
2. Road wins are hard to come by for almost every program in the Big Ten this season. However, Wisconsin is 2-1 on the road in conference play so far, including an impressive win in Columbus over Ohio State. Does this give you confidence that the Badgers can steal one in East Lansing. Why or why not?
Drew: As a program, for the past 20 years or so, Wisconsin has played a style of basketball that does not lend itself to getting blown out even against far superior teams. And, to be clear, MSU is a more talented team than Wisconsin just about every year they play. Wisconsin usually forces teams to play at their pace which also lends itself to not being blown out. The last time the Badgers were in East Lansing they lost by 15, but that is the exception not the rule. I definitely think the Badgers can hang around and make it interesting despite having lost, ugh, seven in a row to the Spartans.
3. Nate Reuvers leads the Badgers with 13.6 points per game. He also grabs 5.4 rebounds per game. Kobe King is also a scoring option with 10.7 points per game, and Michah Potter is finding his stride with 10.1 points and six rebounds per game. Outside of those three, who should Spartans fans look out for to make an impact for Wisconsin?
Drew: There are a couple of other names, two that you probably know and one you may not, that you’ll want to keep an eye out for. The starting backcourt duo of Brad Davison and D’Mitrik Trice are lightning rods for “takes” in and around Madison. Davison is currently on everyone’s good side thanks to his heroics in the win over Maryland (steal of an inbounds pass and then hit the game-winning three) while Trice is being commended for his defense against Maryland’s Anthony Cowan. Trice (younger brother of former Spartan Travis Trice) will need to keep his defensive intensity high to deal with Cassius Winston and it would be nice if either he or Davison scored in double figures to help offset the scoring load that the frontcourt bears.
The name you may not have heard is true freshman Tyler Wahl. The 6-foot-7 Minnesota native is everything you hate as an opposing fan. He is a tireless defender and rebounder, he comes up with loose balls that he shouldn’t have a chance to get and he’ll presumably take over the “Charge King” crown from Davison after next year when Davison graduates. If the game is close and the Badgers end up winning, there’s a pretty good chance that Wahl made a big play to help make it happen.
4. Wisconsin ranks third in the Big Ten in points allowed per game. What do you think the Badgers can do defensively to contain Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman?
Drew: Keeping Tillman off the offensive glass and Winston out of the lane would be an ideal scenario for the Badgers. Easier said than done, however. One thing that I think the Badgers CAN accomplish is getting their hands, arms, legs, heads whatever body part they can spare, really in Winston’s passing lanes and try and force him to do everything himself. He is such a good passer and sets up his teammates so well that if Wisconsin can take that away from him it would be a major boon. Reuvers and Potter are both a few inches taller than Tillman so hopefully their length will be advantageous in the post. Again, these are two excellent players and I don’t see too many iterations of this game where they both don’t play well.
5. Who wins, and why?
Drew: I haven’t been to every B1G arena, but of the ones I have been to Breslin was the most impressive in terms of noise and atmosphere. It is an intimidating place to play and even though the Badgers have been road warriors lately I think their luck runs out on Friday night. 65-61, MSU wins thanks to some clutch, late free throws from Gabe Brown.
Thank you to Drew for his thoughtful analysis and insights. You can follow him on Twitter, and to keep up with Wisconsin, follow Bucky’s 5th Quarter as well.
If you’re interested in reading my responses to Bucky’s 5th Quarter’s question, click here.