For the first time in over a month, Michigan State is heading back to the road this Tuesday, facing off against No. 18 Wisconsin.
After a shaky showing in late Nov./early Dec., the Spartans seemed to have righted the ship. Winners of six-straight, MSU is getting confident and healthy, as it enters the teeth of the Big Ten schedule.
After a brief stint in a boot, senior forward Malik Hall has returned to the lineup. Although he’s not quite healthy enough to slot into the starting rotation, he’s been effective even with limited minutes. With three games under his belt since his return to the court, Hall has already hit double digits twice, most recently notching 15 against Michigan.
“Getting him back to full in the next two weeks is going to be the biggest part,” Head Coach Tom Izzo said. “He’s just so versatile, helps us in so many ways.”
Michigan State’s sixth-straight win came courtesy of Michigan last Saturday. In a classic Big Ten defensive slugfest, MSU came away with a 59-53 win. Hall and junior guard A.J. Hoggard were the stars of the night for MSU, each notching a team-high 15 points.
Hoggard was especially strong, leading the team from the point with efficiency and confidence, jumpstarting the offense when things stalled out.
While beating a rival can wipe away most grievances about a team’s performance, it’s hard to deny that Michigan State’s terrible offensive showing against the Wolverines was a bit concerning. MSU came away with the win, but shot just 37.5% from the field.
The Spartans can’t afford to shoot like that on the road against a top-20 conference opponent.
“Even though it’s a quick turnaround, we’ve got to figure out how we shoot the ball a little better,” Izzo said. “That was the only negative with the game.”
Scouting the opponent
While MSU is riding a winning streak, Wisconsin enters Tuesday after a tough road loss to Illinois. However, the Badgers were missing senior forward Tyler Wahl, who leads the team in average points per game (13.2).
“He’s a lot like Malik, he can guard multiple positions, he can play the three, four, five,” Izzo said. “You’re always going to lose some players, but if you lose the guy that kind of molds everyone else together, that’s hard to lose.”
It’s not certain whether Wahl will return to the court against Michigan State, although he was not present in Wisconsin’s practice on Monday.
Even without Wahl in the lineup, the Badgers are a dangerous team. Sitting at 11-3, Wisconsin is an experienced and lengthy team that doesn’t often beat itself.
“They’re always very experienced, though they do have one freshman that’s playing well for them,” Izzo said. “They’re always solid and fundamental, they never turn the ball over.”
If Wahl does in fact miss Tuesday’s matchup, Wisconsin will still have its leading scorer on the court, sophomore guard Chucky Hepburn. After a solid freshman season, Hepburn has rejected the sophomore slump and become one of the strongest players on the roster. In the Badgers’ loss to Illinois, he put up 22 points, also earning four steals and seven assists.
“Hepburn is one of the most improved players in the league by far,” Izzo said. “I mean, there was a time when they put him in for the first time, we didn’t even guard him, and now he’s their best player and definitely one of the better scorers in the league.”
In addition to a great rotation, Wisconsin will still have one of the best environments in the Big Ten on its side.
“It’s us against the whole state while we’re there,” Akins said.
While the environment is sure to affect the game, most of MSU’s roster is well-aware of just how rowdy the crowd at Madison can get. A season ago, the Spartans went into that tough environment and pulled off a 86-74 victory.
Support student media!
Please consider donating to The State News and help fund the future of journalism.
Tuesday night’s matchup is slated for a 7:00 p.m. tip-off and will be televised on ESPN.
Share and discuss “Preview: Michigan State faces tough road test in No. 18 Wisconsin” on social media.