PREVIEW: MSU, Wisconsin face off with pivotal conference implications
Who: No. 11 Michigan State (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) at No. 20 Wisconsin (17-7, 9-4)
When: Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. ET
Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wisconsin
Radio: Spartan Sports Network; 94.9 WMMQ-FM (Lansing)
Though MSU showed clear improvement after Saturday's 79-55 win against Minnesota, Spartans coach Tom Izzo thinks the team has a different test ahead of itself on Tuesday.
The Spartans will travel for a pivotal road game with potential implications for the Big Ten standings — MSU will enter Tuesday in third place, one game behind first-place Michigan (11-2) and one game ahead of the fourth-place Badgers. Wisconsin is coming off its first loss in seven games after a 61-52 road loss to the seventh-ranked Wolverines on Saturday.
Izzo said the Badgers present a unique challenge, and a win could put MSU's recent three-game losing streak, ended with Saturday's win, out of sight.
"They’re solid defensively, they’re shooting the ball as well as anybody in the league from the three," Izzo said at a news conference Monday. "They don’t make a lot of turnovers, they don’t make a lot of mistakes."
All-Big Ten forward Ethan Happ leads Wisconsin averaging 18.3 points and 10.5 rebounds per game and also posts a team-best 4.9 assists. The potential conference Player of the Year ranks fifth in the Big Ten in total scoring and third in rebounding, presenting a unique challenge for Nick Ward.
"Nick gave us a great response to what he needed to do," Izzo said of Ward, who scored a game-high 22 and had nine rebounds Saturday. "I think you can see what happens when there’s some energy and yet some of it’s the schedule."
But Izzo also had high praises for Happ.
"Maybe what is toughest about him is sometimes he’s dribbling to score, he’s like a point guard in the post," Izzo said. "... (but) Happ’s gonna have his hands full with Nick, and Nick’s gonna have his hands full with Happ."
Cassius Winston, MSU's potential Big Ten Player of the Year candidate, leads the conference averaging 7.4 assists and averages 18.6 points, which ranks fourth among Big Ten players.
Winston was limited to 24 minutes against Minnesota, due in part to two early fouls in the first half, resulting in the point guard to sit for the final 10-plus minutes of the first half. It marked Winston's first sub-30 minute game for the first time in 11 games, in which he averaged nearly 36 a game in that stretch.
However, Izzo points out what could be the biggest determining factor is the difference in style between the two teams — the slow, smash-mouth play of Wisconsin compared to the fast, break-neck pace of MSU.
Wisconsin ranks 5th in conference games, averaging 70.6 for the game, but is holding opponents to 61.0 points, which ranks second. The Spartans will enter Tuesday with the best offense in Big Ten games, averaging 81.9 per game and are allowing 67.0, the eighth-best mark.
Casey Harrison: Wisconsin 66, MSU 62
Chase Michaelson: Wisconsin 63, MSU 59