Saturday night, the Michigan State Spartans survived a tough battle with the Ohio State Buckeyes and emerged victorious. They were the rougher, more balanced team, and made all the needed plays down the stretch to grab a big win.
With that, Michigan State officially got their Big Ten gauntlet underway. Now, the Spartans head to Madison, Wisconsin for a date with the Badgers and Bo Ryan. Given the fact that Michigan State had lost eight in a row to the Badgers at the Kohl Center prior to last year’s win, confidence could also be on the side of the Spartans. Will that be enough to carry them through a tough road battle? Spartan Jump Shots previews a tough battle against one of Tom Izzo’s most hated foes.
Michigan State’s Key To Victory: A big effort from the bench brigade.
Last year, the biggest reason Michigan State survived was the play of their bench. Wisconsin wasn’t a deep team then, and they’re still not as deep now. This means the Spartans will be counting on Travis Trice, Alex Gauna, Matt Costello, Denzel Valentine and company to splash in some big baskets to support the starters. The Badgers bench alternates between good and bad. In their win against Indiana, Wisconsin outscored the Hoosiers’ bench 16-2, and even outgunned Iowa 35-17 in a loss. At home, if the Badgers get that type of effort from Sam Dekker, George Marshall and company, they will be tough to beat. It’s up to the Spartans to match that with an outstanding effort from a few of their reserves.
Wisconsin’s Key To Victory: Get to the line.
This statistic may shock you. In Saturday’s loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes, Wisconsin only shot 12 free throws, making eight of them. Be them floppers or not, that output was unusual for the Badgers, who are used to getting the calls and making a living haunting opposing teams from the free throw line. Coming back home, the Spartans can expect this number to increase dramatically. The key for the Badgers will be making their free throws and getting Michigan State’s bigger stars like Keith Appling, Derrick Nix and Aderian Payne in serious foul trouble. If they’re able to do that, this game will look like most others for Michigan State at the Kohl Center.
The X-Factors: Keith Appling and Sam Dekker.
It’s odd to include Appling as the Spartans’ x-factor, seeing as he should be a factor in the game as a starter. Still, though, Appling showed what he was capable of Saturday night in a big game scoring 15 points and being a leader down the stretch. Last year in Madison, Appling played well, scoring 16 including a huge scoop and score layup which helped ice the game late. If he’s playing confident and engaged, Appling can be the sole reason Michigan State wins, because he’s that good. From this perspective, he’s the x-factor against the Badgers.
Dekker has been sneaky good for the Badgers off the bench, scoring 10 in the upset of the Hoosiers and 13 in a loss to Iowa. Quietly, Dekker is a major threat for the Badgers, and Michigan State must watch out for him. If he’s able to get things going, the Spartans will have another player to contend with that can score.
Most Important “State” Stat Of The Game: 12, the amount of turnovers Wisconsin had in their road loss against Iowa. That was far too high an amount to win considering the Hawkeyes only tossed the ball away six times, and the turnover problems were a bit shocking from a usually disciplined Bo Ryan team. The Badgers must play much more carefully against the Spartans at home. If they cannot, Michigan State might have plenty of runout opportunities for easy points.
Intangibles: Michigan State’s 2012 win.
The Spartans broke a long losing streak in the Kohl Center last season, so now, with Nix, Payne and Appling leading the way, perhaps they feel as a team they can get the job done at this venue. Coming down the stretch in a close game, the “been here, won that” mindset might serve Michigan State very well. They might not wilt as easy under the pressure, and may be confident enough to pull out victory number two in a row in Wisconsin.
Prediction: Despite the fact Michigan State won on Saturday and won this very game at Wisconsin last year, there’s something that tells me the old ghosts of Kohl will make their return. Watch for plenty of fouls, frustrating calls and at least one Badger player going off for a career day that you’d never expect. The Spartans lose this one ugly, and have to regroup in a hurry before Sunday’s big game against Indiana.
Wisconsin 68, Michigan State 54
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax