This year’s match-ups between MSU and Wisconsin on both the gridiron and the hardwood have been very exciting. During college football season, we had the Hail Mary pass that led to a Spartan victory and the come-from-behind win by Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, and the basketball rivalry seemed like it would run a similar script–last month’s controversial shot call let the Spartans come away with a win at the Kohl Center.
So as the winter chill helped usher in a hungry Badger team looking for redemption, there was the sense that this game would resemble a tough, drawn out battle between two of the Big Ten’s well-known defensive squads.
Not so much.
While two of the last three meetings between the teams have gone into overtime, Michigan State was able to assert its dominance and protect a 15-0 home win streak at the Breslin Center without needing to tally any extra minutes. One dynamic aspect of the game was the Spartan’s bench play, with the green and white reserves outscoring the Badger’s bench by fifty percent (14 to 7). This stat shouldn’t be taken lightly, though—Izzo’s development of a deep bench is a key element of Michigan State’s preparation for March Madness. When MSU can get more reliable contributions from those outside of the starting five, they’re poised to not only stay at the top of the conference, but also to also find themselves as a dark horse to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Before they could set their sights on these future aspirations, Izzo’s squad needed to take care of the Badger on its back. While MSU’s vocal leader Draymond Green was quiet to open the game, East Lansing’s favorite blonde, Austin Thornton, took over and drained three field goals in the first few minutes.
Drawing from the oh-so-important theme of bench play, Derrick Nix’s twelve points were important additions to MSU’s success against their ranked foe. Dawson’s back door cut and basket coupled with the “and -1” in the second half was a crowd pleaser and helped contribute to the Spartan’s season high 8 “and-1” plays.
Like the Ohio State game, MSU had a commanding lead most of the game against the Badgers. At one point, they even extended their lead to 21, but a 14-2 run late in the second half had Wisconsin within reach with a nine point deficit. The Spartans, then, took complete control and shut down any comeback thoughts that Bo Ryan’s team may have had. Michigan State ended the game shooting 51 percent from the field compared to Wisconsin’s 34 FG%.
MSU’s dynamic “dishing out” duo of Keith Appling and Draymond Green recorded four and five assists respectively, and both players finished with twenty points a piece. Green also grabbed 10 boards and was able to nab his 32nd career double-double. His impressive effort only continued to fuel the fire for his Big Ten Player of the Year campaign.
The Spartans also picked up their 6th win against a ranked team this season, which is the most in the NCAA and amazing considering the fact that Tom Izzo’s schedules only seem to get tougher every year. This season’s slate has these young guns led by a veteran upperclass star grinding out wins and playing solid basketball at the right time and has put the Spartans as the hot team on the tip of bracketoligsts’ tongues.