Jeff Ghiringhelli and Jake McCormick discuss the 54-47 contest that will certainly not help the reputation of the Big Ten conference
Jake McCormick: Given the fact that Kalin Lucas and Trevon Hughes had nearly identical statistical nights, other players had to step up for both teams. Enter Chris Allen for the Spartans and Jon Leuer for the Badgers. Leuer scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, and made shots from all over the floor. He’s been a pleasant surprise on both offense and defense, and has become everything Brian Butch was supposed to be and then some. Even though two star players were shutdown and two others stepped up, would you characterize this game as sloppy, gritty, or both?
Jeff Ghiringhelli: I would lean towards gritty on this one, but there was some sloppiness on display by both teams. The Badgers only turned the ball over nine times, and Michigan State was right around their average with 14 so not horrendous for either squad. Both offenses operated out of the halfcourt, which typically would favor Wisconsin considering the Spartans love to get out in transition. However, Michigan State did a great job on defense holding Wisconsin to 33% shooting. The Spartans shot a season-low 38%, and tons of shots on both ends were heavily contested. It was a classic, gritty (and sometimes sloppy) Big Ten showdown.
Jake: Michigan State completely dominated the boards, and I found myself yelling more expletives at the television than Tom Izzo supposedly does during a team huddle. Wisconsin’s lack of size was exposed like George Michael (the singer, not the Sports Machine guy), and this is something that they’re going to have to tweak as they get deeper into the Big Ten season. However, the one common stat the teams shared was a 66.7% free throw percentage, despite the fact that Michigan State shot 30 and Wisconsin took 12 shots from the stripe. Wisconsin doesn’t shoot a lot of free throws in general, but it seemed like there were a lot of whistles for a game that everyone knew was going to be physical. Maybe I’m just bitter (and feel free to call me such), but do you think this hindered and slowed the game a bit?
Jeff: I’m betting that the officials knew this game was going to be physical beforehand, but they had a hard time finding a balance during the game itself. There were times when there was a lot of contact down low with no whistle, and other times when touch fouls were being called near the top of the key. The pace of the game was so slow to begin with that I’m not sure it disrupted much, I was just hoping for better consistency with the refs. Typically the more physically active team gets to the line more, and yes it helps that MSU has a big size advantage over the Badgers. The Spartans attacked down low a lot more than Wisconsin, and thus the plus-18 from the line.
Jake: Both Leuer and Hughes have been the offensive twin engines behind the Badgers’ “surprise” record. (I use surprise only because nobody does more with less than Bo Ryan). I will go on record right now saying that the Badgers will make the NCAA tournament as no lower than a six seed, but Michigan State came into the season with high expectations after their mildly surprising run to the championship game last year. Considering the fact that it has looked like Wisconsin is better than they have been in the past few seasons, how would you characterize this win?
Jeff: I always dread playing Wisconsin, and I always consider it a quality win when we defeat them. You can throw all of the Spartans offensive averages out the window when Wisconsin is the opponent. Tonight was obviously no different. It has been a few years since MSU has scored over 65 points against the Badgers, so the defense always has to step up when we meet. This is a Wisconsin team that has handed Duke its only loss of the season thus far, so you know they can play with anyone. It is one of those victories that will show up as a “good win” on the Spartan NCAA Tournament resume because the Badgers always find a way to finish near the top three in the Big Ten.
Jake: This was a tough loss for the Badgers, as they kept Michigan State to a season low in field goal percentage while suffering from the same problem. Wisconsin has an even tougher task of taking on No. 4 Purdue Saturday, but even if they lose that game it would be shocking to see the number get completely dropped as a prefix to their name on the ESPN ticker. Considering no one had them even competing in the Big Ten at the beginning of the year, it’s encouraging to see them give the Spartans a good game. Have your expectations changed for Michigan State, and what are your feelings on the way the team is headed?
Jeff: My expectations for this Spartan team remain very high. As mentioned before, games against Wisconsin are always very tough, so I am not discouraged by only scoring 54 points and shooting 38%. I am encouraged that we adjusted to the Badger style of play and were able to pull out the win. I look for MSU to reel off a few more wins in a row to start conference play, as they travel to Iowa next then come home for games against Minnesota and Illinois, all very winnable games. Purdue is clearly going to be very tough to beat, but I am confident that the Spartans will be right in the thick of the Big Ten title race at season’s end.