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Men’s Basketball Preview: No. 17 Michigan State Spartans host No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers

The Spartans hope to bounce back against the Badgers, just like MSU did when the team visited Madison last month.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Wisconsin
Can Malik Hall repeat his strong performance against the Badgers?
Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s deja vu all over again.”

A little over two weeks ago, the Michigan State Spartans men’s basketball team was coming off a frustrating loss to Northwestern. Coach Tom Izzo promised that things were going to change. The next time we saw the Spartans play, they went on the road and soundly defeated a solid Wisconsin Badgers team by a score of 86-74.

Once again, the now No. 17 ranked Michigan State Spartans are coming off a frustrating 21-point loss at Rutgers over the weekend. The next opponent just so happens to be the No. 14-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. The Green and White could surely use a feel-good, bounce-back win. Will history repeat itself?

When Michigan State defeated Wisconsin in January, MSU shot 50 percent from three-point distance, 52 percent overall, crushed the Badgers on the boards (39 to 20 rebound advantage) and only lost the turnover battle by three (13 to 10). Michigan State also got double-digit scoring out of Malik Hall (14), Max Christie (12), Tyson Walker (12), A.J. Hoggard (12) and Jaden Akins (10). Wisconsin native Joey Hauser snagged 10 rebounds.

One notable Spartan who did not have a good game in Madison was senior guard and captain Gabe Brown. He scored only three points that day, making just one of his seven shot attempts. The game at Wisconsin was the beginning of a four-game shooting slump where Brown shot only 32 percent from the field, including just 3-for-17 from the three-point line (18 percent).

Brown seemed to have found his shooting stroke in New Jersey, however, based on his 20-point, 7-for-9 performance against Rutgers (one of the few bright spots of that game for the Spartans). If Brown remains hot on Tuesday, and if at least some of his teammates can repeat their performance in Madison, it should be a happy night in East Lansing.

While Wisconsin guards Johnny Davis and Brad Davidson both scored over 20 points in the first meeting, only one other Badger scored more than six points (center Steven Crowl had nine points). That said, Wisconsin power forward Tyler Wahl missed the first contest due to an injury and is expected to play in the rematch. Wahl is the Badgers’ third-leading scorer at 11.0 points per game (behind Davis at 20.6 and Davidson at 15.0) and was certainly missed back in January.

With just a month remaining in the regular season, both teams have a lot to play for. The Spartans are currently 17-5 overall and 8-3 in conference play. The Badgers are 18-4 overall and 9-3 in the Big Ten. In the loss column, both teams are essentially in a four-way tie with Purdue and Ohio State for second place, all behind first-place Illinois at 10-2.

The winner of Tuesday night’s contest will, at worst, stay within a game of first place with a reasonable chance to continue to challenge for at least a share of the conference crown. The loser will pick up a fourth conference loss and may need to run the table to try to hang a regular season banner in early March.

Even if neither team can win a championship, they are two of the five teams in the upper tier of the Big Ten, all of whom are fighting for one of the top-four seeds in the Big Ten Tournament. Those top-four teams will earn a coveted double-bye in the conference tournament, while the No. 5 seed will need to play an extra game one day earlier.

Both teams are also jockeying for position when it comes to seeding and placement in the NCAA Tournament. A win on Tuesday could mean the difference between earning a No. 3 seed and starting the tournament in Indianapolis or dropping to a No. 5 seed and getting shipped out to Portland.

Michigan State averages 73.7 points per game (sixth in the Big Ten) and allows 66.4 points per game (also sixth in the conference). Meanwhile, Wisconsin ranks 10th in the Big Ten in scoring at 71.2 points per game, and ranks just ahead of MSU in points allowed per game at 66.4 (fifth in the Big Ten). Michigan State currently ranks No. 22 in Ken Pomeroy’s overall adjusted efficiency margin metrics, compared to Wisconsin at No. 31.

The Las Vegas spread opened with Michigan State as a 4.5-point favorite. Kenpom’s efficiency-based calculations and ESPN’s BPI Index essentially give an identical spread. These advanced metrics all give Michigan State between a 65 and 70 percent chance to emerge victorious.

The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tipoff at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center and will be televised on the Big Ten Network. Head Coach Tom Izzo’s weekly press conference where he discusses the game can be viewed below.

Izzo’s Weekly Press Conference Remarks