EAST LANSING, Mich. — The race to the NCAA Tournament is heating up, and several teams are desperately looking for wins to bolster their resumes.
On Friday night, the Wisconsin Badgers have a chance to build some positive momentum and pick a marquee win that will keep them in the conversation. The Badgers are on the outside looking in at the field, and their margin for error is rather slim at best. Many have projected Wisconsin to miss the tournament altogether, and that could very well be the case.
The Badgers visit the sixth-ranked Michigan State Spartans on Friday night, and will be looking for any sort of positive outcome. A win would do wonders for them, while a loss may seal the deal on their tournament chances.
As for the Spartans, a win would be their third in a row, and they would keep pace atop the Big Ten standings with the likes of the Purdue Boilermakers and Ohio State Buckeyes. With the way the Green and White have played in their last two games, another win is expected for the home side on Friday.
Here’s what you need to know in advance of Friday’s Big Ten tilt between Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Last Time Out
Entering their game with the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Badgers were looking to keep building positive momentum. After a five game winning streak to close out non-conference play and carry them into Big Ten action, Wisconsin dropped three straight conference road games before a 25-point win at home over the Illinois Fighting Illini. Back on the road, the Badgers’ momentum was short-lived, as they fell to the Hawkeyes in convincing fashion, 85-67.
The loss dropped the Badgers to 1-4 on the road in conference play during the 2017-18 season.
Leading the way for Wisconsin were the usual suspects. Forward Ethan Happ led all scorers with 21 points, while also recording 10 rebounds and five assists. Khalil Iverson chipped in with 17 points and seven rebounds, while Charles Thomas IV came off the bench to post 10 points in the loss.
After a rough three game stretch that saw Michigan State go 1-2, the Spartans appear to have found their stride once again. After a lopsided win at home over the Indiana Hoosiers, the Spartans kicked off a three game week with a road contest against Illinois on Monday night. Thanks to their stars, the Spartans overcame sloppy ball control and 25 turnovers for the 87-74 victory over the Fighting Illini.
The win was the second straight for Michigan State, pushing their Big Ten record to 6-2 in the process.
Miles Bridges had a near perfect night from the floor, going 11-of-13 from the field for a game-high 31 points. He was also 7-of-7 from the free throw line, and pulled down right rebounds. Jaren Jackson Jr. recorded a double-double of 21 points and 11 rebounds, while also blocking six shots. Cassius Winston had five points and eight assists, but also accounted for eight of the Spartans’ 25 turnovers.
Michigan State and Wisconsin met just once last season, and it wasn’t until the end of February before they would meet up. The game took place in East Lansing, MI, and the Spartans needed a win to build some momentum as the NCAA Tournament approached. In the end, Michigan State held down home court to the tune of an 84-74 victory over the 16th-ranked Badgers.
Nigel Hayes led the way for the visitors, recording a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. Bronson Koenig had 17 points and six assists, while Zak Showalter had 15 points of his own. All three players have since graduated from Wisconsin.
For the Spartans, Nick Ward matched Hayes with 22 points of his own, while pulling down nine rebounds. Bridges added 17 points and seven rebounds, posting a similar line to Koenig. Off the bench, Matt McQuaid recorded 15 points, while Winston went for 10 points, seven rebounds and eight assists.
Players to Watch
– 16.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.8 apg, 1.4 spg; 56.4% FG, 54.5% FT in 21 games.
– Happ has scored in double figures in 19 of Wisconsin’s 21 games in 2017-18 (nine double-doubles.
– Junior forward is regarded as one of the best players in the Big Ten; five double-doubles over last six conference games in 2018.
– 8.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.8 apg, 0.9 bpg; 54.6% FG, 68.3% FT in 21 games.
– Iverson has improved in every major statistical category from his sophomore season in 2016-17. (3.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.6 bpg; 53.2% FG, 56.1% FT)
– He is coming off back-to-back double digit scoring performances (15 ppg).
– 12.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 7.0 apg, 0.7 spg; 53.7% FG, 92.3% FT in 21 games.
– Winston ranks 10th in the country in assists per game, and tops among all Big Ten players.
– He has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.58; Winston has recorded 147 assists to just 57 turnovers.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
– 11.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 3.4 bpg; 51.9% FG, 44.6% 3PT in 21 games.
– Jackson Jr. ranks fifth in the country in blocked shots per game (second among freshmen).
– Over his last five games, Jackson Jr. is averaging 5.0 blocks per contest; two games with six blocks apiece over that stretch.
Over their past two games, the Spartans have seemingly found the stride they had during their 14-game winning streak. That spells bad news for the rest of the Big Ten Conference if they’re able to maintain the positive momentum.
On the heels of two big wins, Michigan State turns its attention to a Wisconsin team that has struggled on the road in conference play. Their four losses away from home have come by an average of 13.5 points per game. They have a pair of four point losses, and a pair of blowout losses, which means Friday night could very well go either way for the Badgers.
Given the way that the Spartans have played as of late, all signs point to another double digit loss for Wisconsin as their struggles away from home continue in conference play. Michigan State will pick up their third straight win to remain within striking distance of the Big Ten leaders.
Michigan State – 77
Wisconsin – 58
– T. Bennett