After dropping three straight games, the 10th ranked Michigan State Spartans (22-7, 11-5) will return home to East Lansing to close the regular season out with a pair of games at the Breslin Center. And they’ll begin that two game home stand on Thursday when they welcome the 22nd ranked Wisconsin Badgers (20-9, 11-5) into town. Tip off is set for 9:00 PM and will be televised on ESPN.
The game will serve as the second of two meetings on the season between the Spartans and Badgers. The first of which came on January 22 over in Madison. In that game, Michigan State came out on top in a very low scoring affair, 49-47. Keith Appling and Branden Dawson combined to score 37 of the Spartans’ 49 points while Wisconsin on the other hand couldn’t have thrown a rock in the ocean, finishing the game going just 29% from the field and 39% from the free throw line.
For both teams, this game will be big as seeding in the Big Ten Tournament is on the line. As it stands right now, it looks like a very good team will have to be playing on the first day. Neither of these schools want to be that team and both will do everything they can to get one of the four byes in the conference tournament.
Branden Dawson pulls down a rebound over Wisconsin’s Mike Bruesewitz during the last meeting between the Badgers and Spartans. (AP Photo)
It’s been a rough ride as of late for Michigan State, as mentioned before dropping three straight games. The Spartans haven’t won a game since February 16, which is a very long time. When they set our on this rough stretch , I knew it was going to be tough taking on then No. 1 Indiana at home followed by two tough road games against Ohio State and Michigan before finishing it all up against Wisconsin at home. However, I didn’t think they would lose all three in such heart breaking fashion.
A big part of the recent struggles for the Spartans though can be placed upon the disappointing play of junior guard Keith Appling. Appling, who the Spartans have relied upon on numerous occasions this season has been way off during the three game losing skid, averaging just 6 points and 2.3 assists while shooting a miserable 21.7% from the field. And even though Appling has stated that he doesn’t believe in pressure, I think it finally may be getting to him as his confidence as of late has looked absolutely dashed.
But all the fault cannot be placed upon him alone. The Spartans have struggled with a number of other things recently. One of them being turnovers as they had 18 of them against Michigan on Sunday, six of which coming from senior center Derrick Nix.
As for their opponents, the Wisconsin Badgers, who had been an impressive stretch of their own, also find themselves coming off of a disappointing loss. Theirs’ coming at home to Purdue on Sunday, 69-56.
However, Wisconsin is still a very solid basketball squad. A very balanced team led by a core of experienced players, the Badgers have a lot of options, as all of their players play very hard. None so much as senior Jared Burggren, who averages 11.6 ppg, 7 rgp, and 2 bpg.
Along with Burggren, the Badgers give a lot of minutes to other experienced players such as junior guard Ben Brust (11.3 ppg), senior forward Ryan Evans (10.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg), and of course, high motored senior Mike Bruesewitz. If there is one distinct advantage Wisconsin has over Michigan State, it would certainly be their experience
In the end, if that Michigan State basketball team that we saw just a few weeks ago can put all their recent struggles aside and put it all together for 40 minutes Thursday night, they should have the opportunity to right the ship against Wisconsin. A victory against a solid Badger squad like this could really get the Spartans’ confidence back up. And they’ll need that confidence as they head into post season play.
Follow Ryan Squanda on twitter @squandarunner