Michigan State-Wisconsin set for Christmas Day showdown

LEFT: Micah Potter #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket against Yvan Ouedraogo #24 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the first half at Kohl Center on December 22, 2020 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) RIGHT: A

Perhaps the best gift that any Big Ten college basketball team could get this year for the holidays is a short memory.

Teams are going to take their lumps in a conference that is so deep that seven teams were currently ranked in the Associated Press’ Top 25 rankings. And the squads that are able to shrug off a lost battle could end up winning the war when March rolls around.

Michigan State could be the first sample case in that theory. Fresh off a stunning 79-65 loss at Northwestern on Sunday night that knocked the Spartans from the ranks of the undefeated, Tom Izzo’s 14th ranked squad must rebound quickly for a 12:30 p.m. home tip-off on Friday against No. 9 Wisconsin that will start a big sports holiday on FOX.

The Badgers (7-1 overall) began Big Ten play with a 67-53 win over Nebraska on Tuesday night at the Kohl Center. That was fresh off a dominating 85-48 win over No. 24 Louisville on Saturday afternoon.

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The series history

Since 1949-50, Michigan State has played nobody more than the Badgers. In 135 games, Michigan State is 77-58 against Wisconsin. That includes a pair of splits in 2019-20. Wisconsin eeked out a 64-63 win on Feb. 1. That was less than two weeks after Michigan State’s 67-55 win in East Lansing.

The Spartans have won eight of the last nine meetings between the two dating back to the 2015-16 season.

Things to watch for

One of the things that the conference’s loaded nature has done is muddy the waters a little bit about who is the team with the best chance of making national noise. Every team has its strengths and a weakness that underlines its chances. While Iowa can score a ton of points, the Hawkeyes defense- as witnessed by its loss to Gonzaga last weekend- is preventing opponents from scoring.

In that sense, the Badgers could be that team. They play defensively with fire and they protect the basketball – averaging only 8.5 turnovers per game through the first eight games.  Micah Potter is the Badgers best player, averaging 13.4 points and 7.3 rebounds from the power forward spot. Senior guard Brad Davison is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 40 percent from the floor and 47 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

Michigan State, however, is statistically better right now in almost every category in this short sample size of a season except for defensive yield. (Wisconsin allows 57.5 per game, Michigan State 73.3.) The Spartans couldn’t stop Northwestern’s Boo Buie in Sunday night’s 79-65 loss, watching the sophomore guard put up a career high 30 – which include 5 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc. That’s in stark contrast to what Michigan State was able to do as the Spartans were 8-for-31 from 3-point land (25.8 percent). Aaron Henry had 11 points to lead Michigan State, but Joey Hauser and company need a better effort than what they put together on Sunday to beat Wisconsin.

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