Spartans aim to close out season with outright B1G title in Madison

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No. 2 Michigan State (27-3 overall, 15-2 Big Ten) will travel to Madison to face Wisconsin (14-16 overall, 7-10 Big Ten) on Sunday in their final regular season game. With a win, MSU will clinch the Big Ten regular season title outright.

Last Tuesday, MSU’s 20-point win on Senior Night over Illinois assured a share of the conference title, as a banner was raised to the rafters at the Breslin Center.

The Spartans enter Madison as winners of 11 straight contests, tied with Grambling for the longest winning-streak in Division I. Their 27 victories also assures that regardless of the outcome Sunday afternoon, the 2017-18 season will be the winningest regular season in Michigan State men’s basketball history.

The previous best start entering postseason play for MSU was 26 wins. That occured three times: 1999, 2006 and 2016–all under head coach Tom Izzo.

Although Michigan State may be the favorite on paper, the series as of late might favor the Badgers.

Out of the last 22 games played between these two teams in either East Lansing or Madison, the home team has won an overwhelming 20 of them. MSU defeated Wisconsin in back-to-back seasons in 2012 and 2013 at the Kohl Center.

The Badgers have also won four of their last five games, highlighted by a 63-57 upset victory over then-No. 6 Purdue at home.

But in the last meeting between MSU and Wisconsin, the Spartans were propelled to a 76-61 victory, thanks to Miles Bridges’ game-high 24 points and 50 percent shooting as a team. Cassius Winston added 17 points and Nick Ward earned a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Something will have to give between Ethan Happ and MSU’s stifling defense. Happ averages 18 points per game to lead Wisconsin, along with 8.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists, which also leads the Badgers. But Michigan State leads the nation in field goal percentage defense (36.1 percent) and blocked shots per game (7.6). They also rank second in the nation in scoring margin (17.9) and rebound margin (10.7).

Besides the on-court storylines, there have been a fair share of storylines off the court surrounding Michigan State and Miles Bridges this week.

As the highly-awaited FBI probe of the NCAA approaches, a Yahoo! Sports report named Bridges in a release Friday morning, stating that in 2016, his mother Cynthia had a $70 dinner and $400 ATM withdrawal paid for by ASM sports agency associate Christian Dawkins, who also had ties to Izzo and the program.

MSU interim athletic director Bill Beekman said in a statement that MSU “presented its findings to the NCAA, and Miles Bridges has been cleared for competition moving forward” following a “thorough internal review.”

MSU assistant coach Dwayne Stephens was also named in the probe. Dawkins mentioned in an email to his agency boss Andy Miller that he had connected with Stephens, requesting a “trade deal” with the rights to other notable Spartan players in hopes of getting five-star recruit Brian Bowen to East Lansing.

“Throughout my career as a college basketball coach, I’ve been committed to following all NCAA rules, including during the recruiting process,” Stephens said in a statement released Saturday afternoon. “Any insinuation to the contrary is false, I’m confident that I have not committed a violation.”

Bridges has been “cleared for competition moving forward,” according to interim AD Beekman said in a statement on Saturday. The Flint, Michigan native will play Sunday against Wisconsin.

Tip-off between the Spartans and Badgers is scheduled just past 1 p.m. ET. Television coverage will be on CBS and radio coverage will be on Spartan Sports Network.

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