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2018 Big Ten Tournament Preview: #1 Michigan State Spartans vs. #9 Wisconsin Badgers

Will the top seed lose in the quarterfinals for a third straight year?

NCAA Basketball: Michigan State at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

I guess Wisconsin really wanted another crack at those Spartans, huh? Well, let’s hope this game will be as good as the one we saw last week in Madison.

The Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals will start off on Friday with Michigan State taking on Wisconsin after the Badgers knocked off Maryland on Thursday. This will be the third time these two teams meet, and the second meeting in the past week. So it’s fair to say these two teams are already familiar with each other.

Michigan State got the best of Wisconsin in the two regular season meetings, including last Sunday’s season finale in Madison. The Spartans needed late game efforts to fend off the Badgers in both games, making this a solid matchup to start off the day — tip is at 12 p.m. and this game can be seen on BTN.

It should be a great day of basketball in the Big Apple, so let’s take a look at this quarterfinals-opening matchup between the Spartans and Badgers.

1. Will Michigan State put together complete game effort?

The Spartans are one of college basketball’s most talented and complete game, but for most of the season they haven’t proven to be that for a complete 40 minutes. Michigan State is simply the perfect example of an extremely gifted team but is wildly inconsistent, and in March that is not what you want to see if you sport the green-and-white.

Since the start of January, I’d argue the Spartans have only had three straight-up dominating effort where they just blasted their opponent — Maryland on Jan. 4, Indiana on Jan. 19 and at Minnesota on Feb. 13. Other than those three games, it’s almost always been eventful up until at least the start of the second half. And a lot of the teams they were facing were far worse than Michigan State so this is certainly concerning.

If the Spartans put together a complete effort today, then they’ll cruise past Wisconsin. If they don’t, then we are looking at a possible upset. Anytime you give a team like Wisconsin, who has to win out to make the NCAA Tournament, any confidence there’s a good chance it’ll bite you in the butt. We’ll see if MIchigan State lives up to its potential and doesn’t play down to its competition yet again.

2. Does Wisconsin have enough depth to hang with Spartans in tournament setting?

In a tournament setting, depth is always a factor — especially in the Big Ten Tournament where you’ll be playing in consecutive days. It becomes even more of a factor when you’re as banged up as Wisconsin.

Depth has been an issue for most of the year for the Badgers after losing a few notable players to injuries during the regular season. It becomes even more of an issue when you played in a hard-fought game the day before and will be going up against arguably the deepest team in the conference, and maybe the country. So a simple question for this game will be whether or not Wisconsin will have enough energy and depth to compete with Michigan State.

The Badgers do have four players that average more than 30 minutes per game, so they have guys who have the endurance to go the distance. I just wonder how their legs will be feeling by the final five minutes of the game and if they’ll have enough left in the tank to win this game.

3. Can Wisconsin make it three straight years of the #1 seed losing before the weekend?

My other two keys to this game will play a heavy role in this factor and could very well determine if the Badgers can pull off the upset. If Michigan State fails to come out firing in the first half and the Badgers prove they can play a full 40 minutes, then we could certainly be staring at another Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals upset.

On top of those two keys, Ethan Happ and Brad Davison are going to need put up big performances to help the Badgers pull the upset. Happ hasn’t been great against Michigan State in the previous two matchups this year, with the Spartans big men holding him to 13-for-36 from the field and four turnovers.

Davison had a career-high 30 points against the Spartans last week, and that played a huge role in that being such a close game. He’ll need to have another stellar performance this afternoon to help Wisconsin hang with Michigan State again.

While Michigan State got the best of the Badgers in the first two matchups this year, the experts always say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season. Throw in that Wisconsin has been playing its best ball over the past few weeks — 5-2 in their last seven games — and we may have an upset special. Certain things must go in the Badgers favor, but you’d be stupid to rule out Wisconsin in a game like this in March.