Last week might have been the border battle, but if you are looking for two schools with a lot of recent history, look no further than Wisconsin and Michigan State.
Looking beyond the memorable battles on the gridiron last fall, the Badgers and Spartans have needed overtime to decide two of their last three meetings on the hardwood, the most recent coming back on Jan. 3 at the Kohl Center when junior forward Ryan Evans’ 3-point shot at the end of overtime was infamously wiped off the board upon video review.
While that tough defeat came during a stretch of three straight early season losses for the Badgers, the rematch is going to be played under far different circumstances.
No. 15/17 Wisconsin (8-4 Big Ten, 19-6 overall) has won eight of 10 since that loss, while Michigan State’s 58-48 defeat of Ohio State Feb. 11 has put the No. 7/8 Spartans (9-3, 20-5) in a virtual tie with the Buckeyes at the top of the Big Ten standings. However, both the Badgers and Michigan State lurk just one game back in the loss column, each controlling their own destiny over the final two and a half weeks of the regular season.
Simply put, there is plenty on the line Thursday night at the Breslin Center.
“It’s definitely a good feeling [to control our own destiny] but we kind of knew someone was going to lose eventually,” sophomore guard Josh Gasser said. “We just have to take it one game at a time and it starts Thursday with a big one against Michigan State because they are right up there with us.”
In order to maintain control of that destiny, Wisconsin will have to shut down the Spartans’ high-octane transition game. Michigan State has averaged over 10 points per game on fast break opportunities while adding nearly 16 points per game off turnovers.
“We’ve been playing really well in transition,” Gasser said. “Anytime you can take away a couple easy transition baskets in games like this, where it’s usually decided by one or two possessions, it’s definitely huge.”
But throughout the season, the Badgers have been second to none on stopping the transition game, holding opponents to under five points per game on fast break opportunities.
“Its always an emphasis. We don’t want teams to come down and get easy shots,” junior forward Mike Bruesewitz said. “I think we have some of the best transition defense in the country and that’s something we work on.”
Led by the front line trio of senior Draymond Green, junior Derrick Nix and sophomore Adreian Payne, the Spartans have dominated both in the paint and on the glass this seasn. Michigan State has outscored its opponents by over 13 points per game in the paint while posting a rebound margin of plus 10.2 per game.
“They take a lot of pride in doing that,” senior guard Jordan Taylor said of the Spartans’ play in the paint. “We definitely want to out-rebound them. We know they are big, but we have guys who can rebound too.”
Having already won in hostile environments at Purdue, Illinois and just last week at Minnesota, the Badgers are more than ready for whatever the “Izzone” has in store.
“We’ve won in some tough road environments this year,” Taylor noted. “We just have to execute offensively and defensively and do whatever we can to get the win.”
A Badger win on Thursday night would truly shake things up in the Big Ten. With Wisconsin set to face Ohio State yet again in just over a week’s time, the next 10 days mark just about as pivotal a stretch as any that the Badgers will face this season.
“If the juices aren’t flowing for what we’ve got coming,” head coach Bo Ryan said. “You need help.”
Let's hope Bucky can take down Michigan St. GO BUCKY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!