On the final day of the Big Ten regular season, No. 2 Michigan State was tested once again on the road in Madison against the Badgers. For most of the second half, the Spartans led by one possession as Brad Davison kept Wisconsin within striking distance.
Let’s take a look at what we learned from Sunday afternoon’s game.
What We Learned
Cassius Winston is THE difference maker for Michigan State
There are many players on Michigan State’s roster that can be “the guy” on any given night. But for Michigan State to win a national title, Cassius Winston needs to be the guy. And over the past three weeks, he has shown there is no reason that he can’t be.
While cutting down immensely on his turnovers, Winston has bettered his offensive game will continuing to improve on the defensive end to become Michigan State’s most important player.
Since Michigan State’s last loss against Michigan on Jan 13., Winston has scored in double figures in 8-of-11 games. He continues to put up gaudy assist number finishing with no less than five in each of those 11 games. He has also become a finisher for Michigan State’s offense.
Two games during this 12-game win streak stick out more than the rest: the comeback against Northwestern and Sunday’s win against Wisconsin.
Against the Wildcats, Winston was the reason that Michigan State got back into the game. His 13 second half points re-energized Michigan State’s offense and he willed them to a win. His hot shooting was the reason the Spartans defeated Wisconsin. With Miles Bridges struggling to score, Winston promptly went 6-of-6 from behind the arc and 7-of-11 from the field for a team-high 20 points.
He has arguably been one of if not the best players in the Big Ten over the last month. And he will need to continue to be for Michigan State to win a national title. The Spartans can not afford for Winston to revert back to his play at the beginning of the season or they could get bounced early in the tournament.
Brad Davison showed some guts for Wisconsin
Brad Davison was an absolute warrior Sunday against Michigan State. With Wisconsin’s best player, Ethan Happ, struggling from the field, Davison stepped up as Wisconsin’s go-to offensive option and he consistently delivered. His 30 point performance on 10-of-19 shooting is impressive when it is standing alone. Its jaw-dropping knowing he did most of the scoring after he left for the locker room to pop his should back into its socket.
If Happ had a “regular Happ day”, added to Davison’s game would have given Wisconsin another home upset win. However, it was not enough.
Despite the loss, Wisconsin fans should know that they may have something in Davison that can develop into one of the Big Ten’s best point guards. His Aaron Craft esque skill-set can frustrate Big Ten oppositions for the next three years that he is a Badger.
Miles Bridges better get used to the heckling, it isn’t going away
Whether it was the pressure of the news the surprisingly broke to him Friday morning or the fact that Michigan State prepared for most of the week as if their best player was going to sit Sunday verus Wisconsin, Miles Bridges was clearly not himself.
Through three-fourths of the Sunday afternoon’s game, Bridges struggles to get into any offensive rhythm and it almost cost his team a win. He finished 3-of-15 from the field, with one of those shots coming on Michigan State’s first possession, and 0-of-7 from behind the arc. Bridges looked like he was completely out of it mentally and could not get in any offensive flow.
And then down the stretch the heckling came. In a one possession game for most of the second half, Bridges was at the free-throw line trying to make shots to the chants of “F.B.I.” coming from the student section. It started earlier when he was booed during the starting lineup introductions. Despite all of this, Bridges came up with two huge shots in the final minutes to pull Michigan State ahead.
Bridges better get used to this. Despite being cleared by the NCAA, whether he did it or not, he will continue to hear from the opposing fan base until the season is over. How he handles it can be the difference for Michigan State’s chances at a final four appearance.
Despite coming out of the losing end, Wisconsin can take more out of this game than Michigan State can.
The Badgers looked like a totally different team over the final two weeks in the regular season. And there may not be a Big Ten team that wants to face them right now. Good thing that if Wisconsin defeats Maryland in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan State will take on the Badgers for a second straight game.
We will learn more about the Spartans in New York City. They have been tested on the road against lesser competition over the past couple weeks but despite the Purdue game, they have not played any marquee teams. We will really see if Michigan State has a championship run in them coming the Big Ten tournament where they will most likely have to defeat two teams out of a combination of Nebraska/Michigan/Purdue/Ohio State to win another trophy.