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What exactly can we make of the Big 10 at this point? Other than it's really good and really competitive, not a whole lot. Last week Wisconsin destroyed Illinois at home and then won at Indiana. Those wins put them in 1st place with a 4-0 conference record until Iowa of all teams knocked them off last Saturday. The Badgers were down for the entire game and it wasn't as close as the 70-66 score indicates.
With that loss, Michigan State is now on the top pedestal with a 5-1 record. They hold that spot by a half game over three other teams, including Wisconsin. The Spartans got a big win Saturday, albeit at home, over a tough Ohio State squad that wouldn't go away. MSU now gets back-to-back road games at Wisconsin and Indiana followed by home games against Illinois and a Minnesota team they already lost to by 13 points. One of Michigan State's biggest road wins last year came in Madison in an overtime game which was the first of three victories over the Badgers last year.
The Spartans have been a questionable team on the road this year, but a win here will give them a boost going into the Indiana matchup. They had trouble staying with Miami (FL) early in the season, lost at Minnesota, got a lucky win at Iowa and had trouble pulling away from Penn State last week. MSU hasn't fared well against the tougher teams and this is one of them.
The Badgers are always a difficult team to play at home and Illinois got first-hand knowledge of that on Jan. 12 when Wisconsin got out to a 37-11 lead. Big early leads have been key lately whether for or against them as Iowa got out to a 20-point first half lead in their last game.
Michigan State always has a top defense and great rebounding team and that's how you win games on the road. Their problem has fallen on the offensive end where they aren't getting any consistency. Keith Appling leads the team with 13.8 PPG, but there have been games where he disappears altogether. Against the Buckeyes, he came through scoring the Spartans last six points and will try and keep that success going here. MSU will likely pound the ball down low with Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix as the Badgers don't have a big team. Their biggest guy is Jared Berggren who also happens to be their main threat offensively. If he gets into foul trouble, the better for the Spartans. Branden Dawson will be a threat on the offensive glass and freshman Gary Harris gives them a deep threat against one of the toughest defenses in the Big 10.
Much like their opponents, Wisconsin is offensively deficient. They actually score just .1 points per game less than MSU which isn't a good thing. As mentioned previously, Berggren is their best offensive option, yet has struggled lately with just 13 points total in the last two games. Ryan Evans is an athletic forward, but will have to deal with Dawson all game. As with a lot of Badgers games, their scoring might have to come from beyond the arc. That leaves guards Ben Brust, Sam Dekker and even George Marshall as the main options. The three have combined to make five three-pointers per game and that's where MSU has had trouble, especially after allowing 30 points from three-point territory in their last game.
Wisconsin has the advantage playing at home and will have to match their intensity from when they beat Indiana last week. Otherwise, a thirsty Spartans squad will be looking to grab their first important road win of the year.
Predicted Score - Wisconsin 62 Michigan State 55
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