Michigan State women's basketball has cleaned house at the bottom of the Big Ten pyramid this season. They've notched wins against Rutgers and Illinois in their single meetings and are looking to season-sweep Penn State on Monday after drowning them by 21 in University Park, Pennsylvania, on Jan. 27.
Sure, they're not quite the Michigans or Indianas of the conference, but they're well up there in the rankings, coming in at No. 7 with a record of 7-6 for a .538 efficiency percentage.
They also have an overall record of 13-11, being one of the two schools in the conference to have both double-digit wins at home and less than five wins on the road, simultaneously – MSU is 10-3 at home, 3-6 on the road. The only other school to have this type of statistic is Nebraska, which is 14-1 at home and 4-5 on the road.
Visions of the postseason are dancing in the heads of the Spartan ladies like sugarplums, though their grasp on the NCAA bubble hasn't even begun to tighten. The Big Ten has six schools so far predicted to be seeded throughout the newly-updated 68 slot bracket for 2022's March Madness.
The only other Big Ten team mentioned by ESPN's Charlie Creme, right now, is Northwestern, who is listed under "Next Four Out" alongside UMass, Villanova and South Dakota St. Michigan State is still not on the radar, though winning their next and final four games could reverse that curse.
Spartans vs. Badgers
Tonight's game will take place at the Kohl Center in the heart of Madison, Wisconsin, and will be broadcast live on Big Ten Plus with a tip time of 7:30 p.m.
“I think we're in a good place and I'm really proud of this group,” Michigan State Head Coach Suzy Merchant said following Tuesday's practice. “We've faced a lot of adversity and we're going to face some more tomorrow, as we have another kid out. ... We've got to get used to it. ... We talk about competing, being gritty, being tough. Regardless of who's out there, we can all compete and play to the best of our ability and that's been what's gotten us through (playing) with two guards and all post players. ...I'm proud. This team has never quit, not in a practice, a film session or right in the thick of it.”
Wisconsin recorded its biggest comeback in program and conference history on Sunday. The first quarter started out rough, with Purdue going on a 17-2 run and causing the red and white to trail by as much as 22. However, the Badgers managed to rewrite the narrative with what the Spartans are known best for: a fourth-quarter revival. The Badgers outscored the Boilermakers 39-15 in the second half to win by a singular possession, 54-52.
The Badgers are also missing people right now, though for different reasons than the injuries plaguing the Spartans. Junior guard Sydney Hilliard is currently on a leave of absence for personal matters. Hilliard started in 18 games this season, averaging 12.8 points and 4.7 rebounds on 54.8% shooting from the field and 62.7% from the stripe.
Wisconsin averages 30 rebounds per game with a 6.3 margin between them and their opponents. Hall said that rebounding is not one of Wisconsin's strong suits, along with bench contributions and three-point efficiency – they average 5.8 threes on 30.6% shooting.
“They really can shoot the ball from the perimeter,” Merchant said. “Everyone (on their team is so versatile). Their fives can shoot threes, they've got big guards who are able to post and shoot threes. Being able to defend that is a unique challenge. ... They've got some size, they communicate well and it looks like they're really starting to understand and click on that (defensively).”
Unlike the Badgers, who can only lean on junior guard Julie Pospisilova now to tally up the scoreboard, Michigan State has a plethora of reliable scorers that never fail to show out. Besides the obvious senior guard Nia Clouden and freshman forward Matilda Ekh, some more recent up-and-comers have been forwards graduate student Alisia Smith, junior Taiyier Parks and freshman Isaline Alexander.
They also have graduate forward Tamara Farquhar who gets elbows deep in the dirtiest of boards to allow for countless second chances and freshman guard DeeDee Hagemann, who's able to scope the perimeter of the court in a millisecond and get the ball in the hands of one of the five women listed above – she can even sometimes score on her own, though that's still a work in progress.
However, Hagemann will not be playing in tonight's game due to concussion protocol, which also took junior guard Moira Joiner out earlier this season. Farquhar is also a status of questionable, due to a minor shoulder injury, Merchant said. That throws their starting lineup through a loop. Who will replace the pair is unknown, though suspicion senses Parks and graduate guard Laurel Jacqmain are the most probable candidates.
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