Michigan State heads to Madison for litmus test against Wisconsin

After enduring a three-game losing streak where they looked far from the national championship contender people thought they were, the Michigan State Spartans got a much needed win over Minnesota.

Now they will travel to the Kohl Center in Madison for potentially their biggest test of the season to date.

On Tuesday, No. 11 Michigan State (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) will go on the road to take on the Wisconsin Badgers (17-7, 9-4 Big Ten).

Before the teams go to battle in Wisconsin, here’s the tale of the tape:

Wisconsin

The Badgers return to the friendly confines of the Kohl Center winners in six of their last seven games. The single loss came in their last game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, a 61-52 game that was a lot closer than the final score shows.

What makes the Badgers such a tough team is their incredibly stout defense. According to KenPom, they are the No. 7 team in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency at 88.2 points per 100 possessions. They also hold opponents to just 61 points per game, a mark good enough for No. 2 in the Big Ten and No. 8 in the country.

They use their defense to muck up and slow down games and keep it tight for an offense that isn’t extremely potent at just 70.6 points per game. However, what they lack in overall production they get in efficiency. As a team they shoot an impressive 46 percent from the field and 39 percent on 3-pointers while rarely wasting possessions, only turning the ball over 9.2 times a game, ranking No. 2 in the country.  

A lot of the scoring and efficiency comes from the play of redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ who is having a season for the ages averaging 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds to go along with 5 assists per game.

How head coach Tom Izzo and Michigan State decide to defend him will be interesting as he warrants a double team, but his passing ability is something to watch out for especially because of the shooters Wisconsin surrounds him with.

Those shooters come in the form of redshirt sophomore D’Mitrik Trice and sophomore Brad Davidson. The two guards average 13.2 and 11.1 points per game respectively while shooting above 40 percent from 3-point range. Trice shoots 3-pointers at a 44 percent clip while Davidson shoots them at 43 percent.

Wisconsin will provide a very interesting challenge for Michigan State with a defense that can absolutely stifle opposing offenses and one of the more efficient offensive attacks.

Michigan State

The Spartans will head to Madison feeling pretty good about themselves. After dropping three straight games they picked up a dominant win against Minnesota at home on Saturday.

What was crucial about the win was that someone other than junior guard Cassius Winston had a great game. Michigan State got key performances from junior forward Nick Ward and senior guard Matt McQuaid who came away with 22 and 18 points respectively.

Aside from his scoring, what was big for Ward was his nine rebounds, nearly tying his total of 10 boards in his last three games combined. His play offensively against Happ will be crucial if the Spartans want to come away from the Kohl Center victorious.

One huge positive for the Spartans is that Cassius Winston only had to play 24 minutes against Minnesota after logging 103 total minutes in the last three games. His play is what pushes the Spartans and he will need to have fresh legs for what should be an all-out battle in Madison.

One area that the Spartans can expose the Badgers is by winning the rebounding battle. As a team Michigan State averages 42.1 rebounds a game while the Badgers only average 34.3. Wisconsin even has a negative rebounding margin on the season at -0.5 in comparison to Michigan State’s healthy +9.2 which is No. 2 in the Big Ten.

If Nick Ward can win the battle down low and Winston and the wings can stay connected to 3-point shooters the Spartans will have a good chance of winning this game.

With seven games left in the Big Ten season and both teams trying to climb the conference standings this is a big game that could forecast what happens in the rest of the season. With the way both teams play this looks to be an old-fashioned physical low scoring affair in the Kohl Center.

Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Eastern and will be broadcasted on ESPN2.