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PREVIEW: MSU men's basketball gears up for "measuring stick" matchup with No. 23 Wisconsin

December 4, 2023
<p>Junior guard Tyson Walker (2) blocks Wisconsin&#x27;s freshman guard Chucky Hepburn (23) as he makes his way to the hoop in Michigan State&#x27;s game against the Badgers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shot on March 11, 2022. </p>

Junior guard Tyson Walker (2) blocks Wisconsin's freshman guard Chucky Hepburn (23) as he makes his way to the hoop in Michigan State's game against the Badgers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Indiana. Shot on March 11, 2022.

Photo by Chloe Trofatter | The State News

Following a week off from games and an up-and-down November, Michigan State’s men’s basketball team has the chance to begin a clean slate starting Tuesday.

The Spartans welcome to town a Wisconsin team riding high off a convincing win against No. 3 Marquette. The Badgers are ranked for the first time this season at No. 23 in the AP Top 25. They’ll be the Spartans’ third ranked opponent of the season.

MSU lost its first two in neutral site games against Duke and Arizona, both featuring slow starts and struggles for its seasoned players. Head coach Tom Izzo has said MSU needs more out of several of his upperclassmen, specifically guards A.J. Hoggard and Jaden Akins.

The Spartans have little room for error against a rock-solid Wisconsin team in their first game of conference play. Izzo knows it’s vital for his veterans to return to form.

"These games mean a lot right now,” Izzo said. “We need our best players to play well."

The brand of Wisconsin basketball has long been centered around taking care of the ball and limiting any kind of explosive from its opposition. That brand was on full display against Marquette on Saturday – the Badgers stifled the Eagles defensively and controlled the glass in their 11-point win. 

The Badgers have retained most of their production from a year ago, led by guard Chucky Hepburn alongside forwards Tyler Wahl and Steven Crowl

“We got our work cut out for us,” Izzo said. “(Wisconsin’s) a very good (Big Ten) opener, it’s, I still think, one of the top three or four teams in the league, both with experience, coaching and players that have proven themselves before and are playing pretty well.”

St. John’s transfer guard A.J. Storr and freshman guard John Blackwell have been seamless additions to the Badger rotation. Storr leads the team with 13 points per game and Blackwell’s pitched in nine just eight games through his collegiate career.

Michigan State gets the opportunity to show what it’s made of against a team that’s confident in its system and knows its role, Izzo said. 

“I think it’s going to be a good measuring stick for us,” Izzo said. “Where are we, how are we playing against somebody that does not make a lot of mistakes, does not turn the ball over much? Very, very solid and experienced.”

Graduate forward Malik Hall’s status for Tuesday is in question. Though Izzo said graduate guard Tyson Walker is almost fully recovered from an illness, he said Hall has a “bad case of the flu” and hasn’t practiced all week. 

In the event that the Spartans are without Hall against Wisconsin, Izzo said he anticipates centers Mady Sissoko and Carson Cooper to play together in some lineups, something that hasn’t been seen all year to this point. 

What Izzo and his staff plan to do in the backcourt remains unanswered after guard Tre Holloman turned in his second strong performance as a starter this season, dishing out 10 assists in the place of Hoggard against Georgia Southern last Tuesday. The sophomore also started for Walker against Alcorn State and notched 17 points on 5-for-5 shooting behind the arc. 

Izzo was pleased with Holloman’s development all offseason, going as far as calling him his most improved player over the summer. It’s showed early in the season – he’s been one of the few constants for MSU thus far with his strong defense and improved shooting. 

“Tre Holloman has been maybe as valuable as anybody to us if you really look at it,” Izzo said

Michigan State will look to start conference play on the right foot against the Badgers on Tuesday at the Breslin Center. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. with streaming available only on Peacock. 

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