GAME NOTES: A big change in the latest AP rankings has Michigan State now on the outside looking in as the Spartans host 20th-ranked Wisconsin in a Big Ten Conference battle at the Breslin Center tonight.
Michigan State, which previously had setbacks against high-profile opponents such as UConn, Duke, Syracuse and Texas, were on the road last weekend when they were trying to move to 3-0 in league action with a date against Penn State. In Happy Valley, the Spartans were anything but on Saturday as they stumbled into a 66-62 loss versus the Nittany Lions, a defeat that kept the squad from earning the required votes to remain in the Top-25.
For Wisconsin, the story was just the opposite as the team, coming off a 69-61 loss to Illinois on the road the second day of January, took down Michigan (66-50) last week for its eighth win in the last nine outings. Thanks to the recent run of success the Badgers vaulted into the top-20 and join fellow Big Ten programs Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State in the rankings.
Not only does Michigan State own a 68-59 advantage in the all-time series between the two teams, but the Spartans have dominated at home in East Lansing as well with a mark of 43-14 over the years as well. However, the Badgers won the most recent meeting by a score of 67-49, the first setback in conference play at the time for a Michigan State squad that opened Big Ten action at 9-0 a season ago.
Wisconsin trailed by a basket at the break against Michigan at the Kohl Center last week, but the offense turned up the heat and sprang into action in the second half by hitting 6-of-12 shots from behind the three-point line and 14- of-16 at the charity stripe to secure the double-digit win. Jordan Taylor led all scorers with 20 points, adding eight rebounds and three assists, followed by Jon Leuer with 17 points, eight boards and three dishes as well. Keaton Nankivil tossed in another 13 points for a team that shot 47.7 percent from the field on the night. Overall this season the Badgers are being led on offense by Leuer and Taylor with averages of 19.3 ppg and 16.4 ppg, respectively, the combined numbers representing more than half of the team's overall output which stands at 70.2 ppg. In addition to his scoring, Taylor has made sure that his teammates are also kept in the loop, having handed out a team-best 72 assists. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the offense for Wisconsin is that they don't relinquish the ball easily, averaging just over eight turnovers per contest which is the best marks in all of college basketball entering the week. The defense has been suffocating thus far, permitting a mere 55.2 ppg, as opponents make just 39.8 percent of their field goal attempts.
It was a see-saw battle between Penn State and Michigan State on Saturday, the lead changing hands as many as 18 times and the teams knotting up the action on eight occasions before the Nittany Lions pulled out the four-point win at the Bryce Jordan Center. Nevertheless, Durrell Summers still led all scorers with his 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field for the Spartans, followed by Kalin Lucas with 14 points. Draymond Green accounted for 10 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and a pair of steals, but his five points were a result of a poor 2-of-10 shooting effort. MSU finished the meeting 6- of-19 beyond the arc and only 10-of-20 at the charity stripe. Free-throw shooting has been an issue more often than not for this group as they convert just 65.5 percent of their chances. While the accuracy is still better than the opposition (.621) one still expects better efforts from a team that is expected to be around late into March and possibly April. Summers leads the team in scoring with 15.6 ppg, followed by Lucas (14.3 ppg) and Green (11.7 ppg), the latter also pacing the group with 8.9 rpg and 60 assists remarkably enough.
If this game is close at all down the stretch, the Spartans are in for a rough ride seeing as how they can't seem to hit much of anything at the free-throw line when it counts, and Wisconsin is ranked second in the nation in that department with 80.4 percent accuracy.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Breslin Center (14,759) -- East Lansing, Michigan. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Wisconsin 9-0, MSU 6-1. Away Record: Wisconsin 1-2, MSU 1-2. Neutral Record: Wisconsin 2-1, MSU 3-2. Conference Record: Wisconsin 2-1, MSU 2-1. Series Record: Michigan State leads, 68-59.
Wisconsin 67, Michigan State 60