Preview: Wisconsin Faces Tough Home Test Against the Spartans

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Adreian Payne looks to be back for Michigan State, as they enter Madison to face off against the perplexing Wisconsin Badgers.

By The Numbers:

Wisconsin Team Michigan State
17-5 Record 19-3
#9 Ranking NR
9 RPI 10
8 BPI 17
12 Kenpom 18
3 Sagarin 13

February 9, 2014 - Kohl Center, Madison, WI

1:00 ET CBS

Skinny:

The Big Ten officially makes no sense. Iowa's drubbing of Michigan on Saturday made it clearer than ever that it is impossible to understand this conference. But we'll do our best to break down Michigan State's trip to Madison for a matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers.

Wisconsin has demonstrated a lot of good things and a whole lot of bad things this season. The emergence of freshman Nigel Hayes as a legitimate post presence down low has made their front court deeper and more productive. However, they've come out flat in way too many conference games. I'm sorry, but Wisconsin should not be losing to Northwestern at home. Don't get me wrong, Northwestern isn't god-awful. But there have been many games where the Badgers let winnable games slip through their fingers. Their defense has improved in the past few games, but their offense has sporadically shut down. Point guard Traevon Jackson has become the scapegoat for their stagnant offense, with both warranted and unwarranted criticism of his performance. At the end of the day, this Wisconsin team has evolved from the #3 team in the country with a lethally efficient offense to an unorganized mystery, which has caused me great emotional turmoil.

Michigan State, however, has been much more consistent in conference play. But earlier in the month, they dropped a weird, neutral-site game against Georgetown at Madison Square Garden. It's hard to give that game a lot of credence, especially with an injured Adreian Payne. Because of his absence, the Spartans have played a deep bench, and have found scoring from plenty of other sources. Gary Harris is one of the best guards in the Big Ten, and while he struggled from the field in their most recent victory over Penn State, he's primed to explode against he Badgers.

Projected Starting Lineups:
Wisconsin Pos. Michigan State
Traevon Jackson G Travis Trice
Ben Brust G Gary Harris
Josh Gasser G Denzel Valentine
Sam Dekker F Matt Costello
Frank Kaminsky C Adreian Payne (???)
Wisconsin Players to Watch:

Ben Brust: The 6'1" shooting guard faces an impossible defensive matchup in Gary Harris. Throughout his career, Brust has been a stabilizing defense force for the often-stingy Wisconsin defense. This season, Wisconsin's defense has been off-and-on, and it can't be blamed on one person. But Brust may have to change his defensive strategy against Harris. It's great that Brust is 4th in the country is Fouls Committed per 40 minutes, committing less than 1 foul per game. However, to slow Harris down and make him uncomfortable, he'll need to get in Harris' grill and foul him. Harris is a great free-throw shooter, so that won't stop him too much, but Brust can't let Harris get easy baskets around the rim.

In addition, Brust is an excellent three point shooter, as he's shooting 39% this season. But in the past five games, he's shot a meager 28%. When Brust doesn't knock down the three, the offense halts. His ability to hit the outside shot opens up the Wisconsin offense astronomically. It gives Jackson more freedom to operate with the ball, and opens up looks for Frank Kaminsky down low. We know Brust isn't a bad shooter, so there's no time like the present for him to break out of his recent slump from three.

Sam Dekker: It's very challenging to put Sam Dekker's season in perspective. On the one hand, he's having a very nice year - he leads the team in scoring and has become much more efficient with the basketball. On the other hand, this hasn't been the Sam Dekker that some Wisconsin fans expected to see. People expected him to take the country by storm, and to become the go-to guy who Wisconsin can lean on when the offense goes sour. It doesn't look like he will make the jump to stardom this season, but that doesn't take away from his immense talent. In arguably Wisconsin's biggest home game of the year, the team should look to Dekker to step up. He has a reasonable matchup in Matt Costello, who's a nice player and a solid defender, but a locked-in Dekker could handle him. It'll be interesting to see which Sam Dekker shows up on Sunday.

Michigan State Players to Watch:

Adreian Payne: Payne will be playing in just his second game since missing a significant part of this season with a foot injury. He performed well in Thursday's win versus Penn State, although in a limited role, as he scored 12 points and grabbed 3 boards in 18 minutes. With Keith Appling's status still uncertain for Sunday, although word is he is unlikely to play in this matchup, Payne's role as a scorer and playmaker become even more critical. As is the case for the rest of the season, Payne's health and specifically that foot, will be monitored very closely by Tom Izzo and his training staff. The one benefit to Payne's extended absence was the minutes for Michigan State's young big men, Matt Costello and Gavin Schilling, who showed good signs of development during that time and will provide extra rebounding help. If Payne can pick up the slack scoring the ball without Appling, the Spartans are going to have a great chance to win.

Travis Trice: The junior Trice struggled in Thursday's game versus Penn State despite starting the game and playing extended minutes in the absence of Keith Appling. Trice had just five points on 1-6 shooting for the game. However, his seven assists were critical at key points in the game to ensure an easy Spartan win. Look for Trice to play well and particularly to score, as he has been instant offense since he stepped foot in East Lansing. His contributions in the scoring column will be big as Bo Ryan's defense will surely look to stop the two future first round picks, Payne and Gary Harris. Trice's ability to score and set his teammates up for easy buckets against the discipline of Wisconsin is going to be critical.

What This Game Means for the Badgers by Kevin Dlugos: Wisconsin should be counting their lucky stars that Michigan State will be without Branden Dawson and (most likely) Keith Appling. This enigmatic Badger squad is in for a world of trouble if Michigan State comes in hot, especially if Wisconsin's defense regresses to the Indiana debacle. When they face guards who can take over, they have trouble stopping it. Gary Harris is just the type of guard that gives Wisconsin fans nightmares. If he's feeling some type of way, Michigan State can beat this Wisconsin team handily. But even though Wisconsin has slumped offensively, they are due to break out. Mind you, Michigan State is a tough team to "break out" against, but no one on the Badgers has played to their offensive potential recently. That can change with the flick of Ben Brust's wrist. If he hits the three, that gives Wisconsin a fighting chance. But this matchup no longer has the star power as it seemed to have earlier in the season.

What This Game Means for the Spartans by Andy Creal: A couple weeks ago, this game could have easily been a top ten matchup. Although Wisconsin's recent slide takes away from the pre-game hype, make no mistake the Badgers are a very formidable team and the Kohl Center might be the hardest place to play in the Big Ten outside of East Lansing. At this point in the season Tom Izzo is just trying to get his squad healthy so they can begin their preparations for a deep run in March. In games like these, this team just needs to survive undermanned so they can keep up with Michigan in the Big Ten standings and remain a strong candidate for a number one seed in the big dance. Outside of the Michigan game, the Spartans have done an incredible job of piecing together wins with young guys playing big time minutes and I look for them to do it again in Madison. Gary Harris continues his tear he's been on and leads the way.

Prediction:

KD - Michigan State 65, Wisconsin 58

AC - Michigan State 74, Wisconsin 70

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