The Spartans sit at 5-5 in Big Ten play. They began league play by winning four of their first five games, before completely falling apart of late. One of the Spartans' wins during their successful opening stretch was a 64-61 defeat of Wisconsin. The Spartans showed the mettle that has made them one of the most respected programs in college basketball in recent years, as they scored the final nine points of regulation to force overtime and earn the eventual victory over Wisconsin.
The Badgers are deserving of their national ranking. They currently sport a 15-game home winning streak, most recently knocking off No. 10 Purdue on Tuesday night. Their current home win streak is tied for the ninth-longest streak in the nation. The Badgers are outscoring their opponents by 19.9 ppg in their home gym this season.
With respect to the all-time series, today's game marks the 130th meeting between Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Spartans currently hold a 69-59 lead over the Badgers thanks to a 64-61 overtime win on January 11th in East Lansing.
The Spartans now appear barely a shadow of the team that downed Wisconsin in dramatic fashion. They have lost four of their last five games, including a stretch of three straight losses from Jan. 18th to Jan. 27th. Most recently, the Spartans were blown out at Iowa, suffering a 72-52 defeat. They are just 1-4 in Big Ten road games this season. The main reason behind the decline has been a complete failure at the defensive end. The Spartans have built a reputation as a strong defensive squad, just part of their personality as a controlled, measured, intimidating team. At the start of Big Ten play, that team still appeared to exist. Michigan State held opponents to 39.3 percent shooting, including 35.3 percent from beyond the arc through its first five league contests. Over the last five, however, the Spartans are allowing teams to shoot an unforgivable 53.5 percent from the floor and 47.5 percent from beyond the arc. Overall, MSU ranks eight in the Big Ten in field goal percentage defense (46.1 percent). In their only victory in their last five games, the Spartans were forced to win with offense, tallying 84 points to barely edge Indiana. The Spartans currently allow 67.7 ppg and score 71.5 ppg. If they must rely on offense, they should be encouraged by the progress of Kalin Lucas. Since tearing his left Achilles in round two of last year's NCAA Tournament, Lucas has made the slow road to recovery. Over his last three games, he is averaging 23.3 ppg and 36.7 minutes per game.
Wisconsin has won five of its last six and 12 of its last 14 games overall. The Badgers currently sit at 6-3 in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is also a team with an impeccably reputation as a defensive-minded squad. Unlike Michigan State, the Badgers have lived up to expectation this season. They are once again amongst the nation's best scoring defenses, allowing only 56.1 ppg, which leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally. They are holding opponents to 40.6 percent shooting on the year and allow just 4.9 three-pointers per game. In tandem with the strong defensive effort is a bruising advantage on the glass, where Wisconsin posts a plus-3.8 rebounding margin. The Badgers win with defense, but that is not to imply that they are devoid of playmakers. Jon Leuer and Cousy Award finalist Jordan Taylor serve as the top-scoring tandem in Big Ten play, averaging a combined 38.5 ppg. They have knocked down 43 and 40 three-pointers, respectively, leading Wisconsin to an impressive 8.2 three- pointers per game clip. The Badgers score 69.3 ppg on the offensive end.
The Badgers not only are rolling, but they will be motivated to earn a series split. They also have an impressive win streak and homecourt advantage on their side. Michigan State is playing out of character at the moment, and the identity crisis should continue for at least one more game.
GAME NOTES: The disappointing Michigan State Spartans are on the road for the fourth time in six games this afternoon as they visit the Kohl Center and the No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers in a Big Ten Conference bout.
FACTS & STATS: Site: Kohl Center (17,142) -- Madison, Wisconsin. Television: CBS. Home Record: Michigan State 9-2, Wisconsin 12-0. Away Record: Michigan State 1-5, Wisconsin 2-4. Neutral Record: Michigan State 3-2, Wisconsin 2-1. Conference Record: Michigan State 5-5, Wisconsin 6-3. Series Record: Michigan State leads, 69-59.