Wisconsin was looking to bounce back after suffering an 83-73 defeat to Ohio State and Michigan State was hungry to pick up a resume-boosting win on senior day.
The Spartans dominated the majority of the first half and led by as many as 13 in the opening 20 minutes. However, a corner three nailed by Zak Showalter as time expired in the first half capped a 9-0 run to get the Badgers within one.
Michigan State once again controlled the tempo for the majority of the second half. Despite a late comeback attempt by Bronson Koenig and Wisconsin, the Spartans held on for a key 84-74 win.
Let’s see what we learned from Michigan State’s tenth straight home victory over Wisconsin.
What We Learned:
1. Michigan State has a Dangerous Bench.
The Spartans were able to pick up a resume-boosting win over Wisconsin in large part to the contributions they received from the bench.
Matt McQuaid tied his season high in points, scoring 15 on 5-9 shooting in 28 minutes off the bench. He was also averaging only 5.1 points per game and only 19.6 minutes per game.
Wisconsin had no answer for the sophomore guard all day. McQuaid not only scored 15 points, but he also contributed two rebounds and two assists.
While Cassius Winston struggled shooting the ball for Michigan State in 29 minutes off the bench, he filled up the stat sheet as well.
Winston went just 2-11 from the floor, but scored 10 points. The freshman guard also nearly notched a triple-double. Winston dished out eight assists and grabbed seven rebounds for the Spartans.
Kyle Ahrens and Kenny Goins also combined for five points in 32 minutes off the bench for Michigan State.
2. Nigel Hayes needs to make his Free Throws.
The Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year actually had one of his best games of the season from everywhere, except the free-throw line.
Hayes scored 22 points and collected 11 rebounds to earn his fifth double-double of the season. The senior forward also converted more than eight field goals for only the second time this season.
Despite the fact that Hayes was tied for the game high in both points and rebounds, his abysmal performance from the stripe essentially lost the game for Wisconsin.
Hayes missed crucial free throws down the stretch while the Badgers were attempting to form a comeback. Overall, Hayes went just 4-12 from the line.
The Toledo, Ohio product has had a disappointing final season to say the least. Hayes’ free-throw percentage is extremely low in comparison to his previous two seasons on Wisconsin.
Though Hayes looked lost from the free throw line during his first season with the Badgers, shooting only 58.5 percent, it seemed Hayes had permanently improved since then. Hayes shot 74.4 percent from the stripe during his sophomore year and 73.6 percent the following year. This season, Hayes has experienced some deja vu in terms of free throw woes.
Hayes has converted only 61.5 percent of his free throws this year. Against Michigan State, he converted only 33.3 percent. Though Hayes has struggled all year from the stripe, his performance against the Spartans was by far his worst. Before the loss in East Lansing, the most free throws Hayes had missed in a game this season was six.
3. The Spartans Essentially Punched Their Ticket to March.
Michigan State has without a doubt been teetering on the bubble for quite some time now. According to Joe Lunardi, the Spartans were on the right side of the bubble before beating Nebraska on Thursday and Wisconsin on Sunday.
After going 2-0 in the second-to-last week of regular season play and beating a ranked opponent, it would now be a surprise if Michigan State doesn’t crack the field of 68.
The win over Wisconsin guarantees the Spartans double-digit victories in Big Ten play, something that may be a key factor in passing the eye test from the selection committee.
Overall, Michigan State is 18-11 (10-6). Its RPI of 45 is also set to potentially crack the top 40 after beating the Badgers.
With a top 20 strength of schedule as well as victories over Minnesota, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, Tom Izzo and company have to like their chances of making the NCAA tournament for the 20th consecutive season.
Michigan State and Wisconsin are moving in opposite directions as the regular season is coming to a close.
Wisconsin has lost four of their last five games and appears to be beatable by just about any team in the Big Ten on any given day. The Badgers are in danger of falling out of the AP top 25 for the first time the season. If Wisconsin manages to stay ranked, they will be hovering somewhere around the 20s.
Even when Wisconsin was ranked seventh in the nation, Lunardi predicted the Badgers to land only a four seed in the NCAA tournament. If the Badgers were not getting credit then, they absolutely are not now. Without a couple of bounce back victories to close out the season, Wisconsin is in danger of getting a seven or potentially even an eight seed in March Madness.
Since getting blown out by Michigan 86-57 on February 7, the Spartans have won four of their last five games. Michigan State will finish out the regular season by playing Illinois in Champaign on Wednesday and Maryland on Saturday.
A victory over the 24th ranked Terrapins would be another significant resume-booster for the Spartans.