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Michigan State Men’s Basketball Preview: Top-15 Matchup with Wisconsin

The Big Ten contenders look to battle it out on Christmas Day.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Wisconsin vs Nebraska David Banks-USA TODAY Sports


Where: Breslin Student Events Center, East Lansing MI

When: 12:30 p.m., Friday, Dec. 25, 2020





PG D’Mitrik Trice (R-SR., 6-0, 184)

SG Brad Davison (SR., 6-4, 202), Trevor Anderson (R-SR., 6-3, 195)

SF Aleem Ford (R-SR., 6-8, 217), Johnny Davis (FR., 6-5, 196)

PF Nate Reuvers (SR., 6-11, 235), Tyler Wahl (SO., 6-9, 220)

C Micah Potter (R-SR., 6-10, 248)


The Wisconsin Badgers ended the 2019-20 season with a 21-10 record (14-6 in Big Ten play). Wisconsin ended the season strong with an eight-game winning streak to end conference play. The Badgers claimed a piece of the Big Ten title along with Michigan State and Maryland and ended the season at the 17th spot in the AP Poll. Nate Reuvers led the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game. Before the March Madness tournament was cancelled, Andy Katz projected Wisconsin to enter the tournament as a five seed in the West.


Wisconsin returns five of their top six scorers from the 2019-20. The Badgers are one of the most experienced teams in the country as all of their starters are fourth or fifth year players. They added the 30th recruiting class in the country according to 247sports with one four-star and four three-stars. This recruiting class will spend a lot of time in the scout unit, as only one of them is getting legitimate rotation minutes. Johnny Davis, the 6-foot-5-inch wing is the lone freshman in the rotation. This Wisconsin offense is predicated around movement and this iteration of the Wisconsin program uses that to rain down shots from behind the three-point line.

The Badgers are coming off a 14-point win against Nebraska. The Greg Gard-led team put up an impressive performance on the defensive end of the floor as the Badgers held the Cornhuskers to 53 points. Wisconsin struggled on the offensive end, as the Badgers only made one of their first 16 shots. Micah Potter led a 16-0 run in the second half to take over the game. Potter ended the game with a double-double as he poured in 10 points and brought down 11 rebounds.


Micah Potter is the star of this roster. This is his first season as a full-time starter. Through his first three years, he started 19 of his 80 games over the previous three seasons. Although the Badgers are one of the most balanced teams in the country, they continuously go to Potter when their offense is in a rut. Potter has scored in double-digits in his last four contests. He has also shown the ability to space the floor with seven made three-pointers since the loss to Marquette.

NCAA Basketball: Rhode Island at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

He has been an analytical darling by showing off his efficiency, ability to draw fouls, and rebounding. He has shot efficiently with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 percent. He has shown a propensity for drawing fouls with a free throw rate of 0.485. That is nearly double the average rate. On the defensive glass, he has brought down an impressive 27.5 percent of boards.


Wisconsin runs Bo Ryan’s swing offense. He created it during his time at Wisconsin-Platteville. It is a continuity style offense where all five individuals are interchangeable. It is based on four perimeter players and one post player, but all rostered athletes are taught how to run the post spot as well. Rather than using the dribble drive to break down defenses, it is all about passing the ball and cutting off the ball. It implements a lot of UCLA cuts, flex cuts, and Kansas ball-screen actions. This results in an extremely balanced offense. Wisconsin does not have anyone averaging over 15 points per game.

The base set is a triangle. The five man is in the post, and the three man is on the ball-side wing. The one brings up the ball while the four trails behind. Finally, the three is on the weak side wing. Once the ball is swung and the off-ball movement begins, every player becomes a threat to score due to the constant motion. There are some modern aspects to the offense as well, like the use of the pick and roll or pop out of the quick backside swings. That motion creates these massive advantages for the offense in terms of spacing.

Here is a short video of Seattle Pacific University head coach, Ryan Looney explaining the basic principles of the swing offense.


Bo Ryan’s successor, Greg Gard has been the head of the Badgers’ bench since he took over during the 2015-16 season. He brought back the traditional swing offense after Bo Ryan went away from it toward the end of his career. Since taking over, he has led Wisconsin to a 108-58 record, including four March Madness appearances, including two Sweet 16 appearances. He was on a Bo Ryan bench for 23 years at three different schools prior to Ryan’s retirement. He ended up winning the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award after turning around Wisconsin’s season in his interim year. He took a 9-9 team to the Sweet 16 and a 15-8 record since he took over. In 2020, Gard led Wisconsin to a share of the Big Ten Regular Season Championship. He also claimed the Big Ten Coach of the Year award, the fifth time a Wisconsin coach has won the award.


Michigan State is coming off a 14-point loss to unranked Northwestern to open up Big Ten conference play. The Spartans fell to 12th in the AP Poll after their first loss of the season. 6-0 was the best start to a Michigan State season since the 2015-16 season. There were not many bright spots in that performance outside of Gabe Brown and Malik Hall. One or both of them may end up cracking the starting lineup for the Christmas Day matchup. In the post-game press conference, Coach Izzo spoke about the disappointing effort on the defensive end as well as the anticipation for the Christmas Day matchup with Wisconsin.

Statistically, Joey Hauser and Aaron Henry are leading the team through seven games. Hauser is averaging a double-double with 13.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game. Henry is averaging four steals and blocks (stocks) per game. Gabe Brown however has been the most efficient scorer by far. He has made 15 threes (2.1 per game) on 51.7 percent shooting from behind the three-point line. Against Northwestern, Michigan State did not struggle with turnovers or giving up offensive rebounds, but it really came down to the Wildcats running their sets without deterrence and making their shots. The Wildcats got to the free throw line with ease. The team posted a free throw rate (FTr) of 0.294, while the Spartans posted a FTr of 0.075. In short, Northwestern was exponentially better at drawing fouls and making free throws. The Wildcats also made more three-pointers than the Spartans while taking 10 less attempts.


Michigan State’s rotation will decide who comes out on top in this game. If head coach Tom Izzo decides to go more than eight or nine deep into his rotation, then expect Wisconsin to pull ahead in those minutes. If Coach Izzo is willing to tighten up his bench unit, then this Spartans team has a legitimate chance to take down the Badgers. Nevertheless, expect a tightly contested matchup between the two top-15 opponents.