clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Roundtable: Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan State Spartans Preview Discussion

The BTPowerhouse chats about one of the Big Ten's biggest games this season.

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

With Thursday's major matchup between the Michigan State Spartans and Wisconsin Badgers, it seemed like a good time to bring BTPowerhouse's writers together and get their thoughts heading into the game. It's certainly a huge game for both sides and could shape each's Big Ten title and NCAA Tournament chances.

Check out the discussion below.

1. What Are Your General Thoughts On This Matchup and What Does It Mean Going Forward?

Thomas Beindit: It's really rare when the two hottest teams in the Big Ten get the opportunity to face off with each other at the right time. Luckily, that's going to happen on Thursday. Michigan State has won five of its last six games and Wisconsin has won its last seven in a row. These might not be the best teams in the conference when all is said and done, but you would be hard pressed to find anyone playing better right now. Add in that Michigan State is fighting for a double-bye in the Big Ten Tournament and that Wisconsin desperately needs another marquee win for its NCAA Tournament berth and this looks like a great game.

Jerome Scherwin Jr.: This game is HUGE for Wisconsin, who is currently 33rd in KenPom's team rankings, a nine seed in Sports Illustrated's latest Bracket watch and fifth in the Big Ten conference race. Guys, Bucky is doing it again.

Greg Gard has this team playing the best ball of the season and it started by getting Nigel Hayes the ball more. And Hayes has rewarded his coach by being a more consistent force. On top of that, Bronson Koenig is protecting the ball and has rediscovered his stroke once again and guys like Vitto Brown, Zak Showalter, Jordan Hill and Alex Illikainen are contributing as well. I said it after their win against Ohio State, they are one of the most lethal teams in the Big Ten right now. But can they keep it going inside the Breslin Center in front of a raucous Michigan State crowd?

Noah Morris: Can you imagine what road wins at Maryland and at Michigan State would do for this Wisconsin team? If you pair that with the fact that would mean a sweep of Michigan State, that does more than cancel out the bad losses this team collected at the beginning of the year. Greg Gard almost has to be in the conversation with Fran McCaffrey for the Big Ten Coach of the Year in my mind for taking this team from where they started Big Ten play to where they are now.

Tom Izzo has his team rolling at the right time of the year yet again and once more they look like a team with serious Final Four aspirations. These are two teams that nobody wants to see on their schedule coming down the stretch in conference play and then on into the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments. Kenny Goins being out for a few weeks is a depth loss, but nothing that you would expect to have a massive impact on their hopes going forward.

Andrew Holmes: This game could go a long way in solidifying Wisconsin's NCAA Tournament resume in a tumultuous year. Additionally, it would help the Badgers move towards finishing in the top four of the Big Ten yet again. They are the hottest team in the league right now, but a win in East Lansing might make them the hottest team in the country. On the other hand, Michigan State whipped Indiana just a few short days ago, so the Spartans still have to be favored here.

Marco Knudsen: This has potential to be one of the best games in the conference all season, which is crazy to think that considering how Wisconsin was playing at the beginning of the season. If Wisconsin can manage a sweep, that would bump them even closer to an at-large bid. I'm curious to see how Bronson Koenig performs with Lourawls "Tum Tum" Nairn re-inserted back into the starting lineup. Koenig went for 27 the first meeting this season, and I'm sure coach Izzo has made Nairn's mission to contain Koenig a priority.

2. What's The Matchup To Watch When Michigan State and Wisconsin Tip-Off?

Thomas Beindit: For me, the matchup to watch is going to be upfront. Michigan State has seen a lot of improvement from Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis over the last few weeks and it's certainly been a big part in the turnaround for the Spartans. Likewise, Ethan Happ has been doing big things for the Badgers and is making a serious run at Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Who wins upfront will likely come out on top on Thursday night.

Jerome Scherwin Jr.: Denzel Valentine and Nigel Hayes. Both have been playing the point forward a ton lately and I can't wait to watch them go toe-to-toe. Outside of Jarrod Uthoff, I don't know if there have been two better players in the conference as of late. in their last five games alone, Hayes is averaging 20.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists and Valentine is averaging 23.4 points, 7 rebounds and 8.8 assists (including a 30 point, 5 rebound, 13 assist game Sunday against Indiana).

In Wisconsin's one point victory a few weeks ago, Hayes and Valentine combined for 48 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three steals. I'm all in for another light show in front of the best fan section in the Big Ten.

Noah Morris: I'm going a little bit outside the box with this, I'm going to be watching Ethan Happ and Matt Costello. While Happ has struggled recently, totalling 6 points and 13 rebounds in his last two games, he did post 14 points and 8 rebounds against Michigan State a few weeks ago when they pulled off the one point upset.

In their last four games, Costello has averaged 14.8 points and 9.3 rebounds including a huge 22 point and 11 rebound performance against Indiana on Sunday. Michigan State is notorious under Tom Izzo for absolutely dominating the glass on both sides. It'll be a huge responsibility for both Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes among others to keep guys like Costello off the glass. His energy is incredible, and could have a huge impact in the Breslin Center in front of a crowd that never needs help getting pumped up.

Andrew Holmes: I agree with Noah, Happ and Costello often get overshadowed by the stars on their teams, but they could end up having a hell of a battle in this one. It also helps that guys like Valentine and Hayes play a somewhat positionless role for their teams so they will probably end up matching up with different players throughout the night.

Marco Knudsen: I'm interested in seeing how the matchup of Nairn vs. Koenig plays out. When Koenig is on, Wisconsin becomes a very potent team. With most of his efforts focused on the defensive side of the ball every game, I'm expecting Nairn to contain Koenig, but the height advantage for Koenig could come into play on the perimeter. If Koenig can create separation and knock down open three-pointers, it could be troublesome for the Spartans.

3. Who Wins On Thursday Night?

Thomas Beindit: Wisconsin's turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable. Seriously, I mean, the Badgers have transformed from a fringe NIT team into one of the single most dangerous teams in the country. Outside of potentially Duke and Kansas, I don't think anybody has a more impressive recent stretch than any team.

Unfortunately, I think that run ends on Thursday night. If the Badgers were playing anybody in the Big Ten except Michigan State, I think I might predict the team to win. However, Michigan State has shown it can play at an elite level the last few games and is just starting to round into its March form. Give me the Spartans in a tight one.

Jerome Scherwin Jr.: At first thought, I was going to side with Michigan State getting revenge. It's the smart pick. It's the wise pick. It's the pick KenPom is saying has a 84% chance of happening.

But my heart, my heart just keeps telling me "no". It keeps reminding me of how big of a fan I've been of Greg Gard's Badgers resurgence. About how on Saturday, I couldn't wait to stop calling him "Interim head coach Greg Gard" and start calling him "Head coach Greg Gard". And honestly, I've had so much fun watching Wisconsin throughout this amazing seven game stretch, why would I want it to end now?

I'm rolling with the Badgers. I think they have too much to play for. I think that they are extremely confident in the game they're playing as a unit right now. Bucky by 3. On Wisconsin.

Noah Morris: If the last few years have taught me anything at all, it's that you shouldn't ever bet against Tom Izzo once the calendar turns to mid-February and beyond. Especially at home in a game with revenge implications and a game that State fans hope will continue their roll as they head into Big Ten Tournament play.

I expect Nigel Hayes, Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ to all do their thing for Wisconsin. But then I look over at Michigan State and see Denzel Valentine, Brynn Forbes and Matt Costello. With Tom Izzo at the helm, I can't bet against this team at this time of the year. I'm taking Michigan State in a very close game. Sparty by 5.

Andrew Holmes: After what they did to Indiana, it is almost impossible to pick against Michigan State at home right now. And yet, I'm going to go with the Badgers, call it hunch, but I think this win will solidify Greg Gard as the future coach of this team and his players will play in a way that reflects that.

Marco Knudsen: I think one underlying key to victory in this game will be bench production. Michigan State had 14 bench points to Wisconsin's two. I think depth and Nairn's perimeter defense will decide the game in the Spartan's favor. Michigan State 71, Wisconsin 63.