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Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Badgers, Spartans Jockey For Early Position

With Minnesota's loss to Purdue, Wisconsin's next two games will go a long way to shaping the early conference pecking order. Before the Badgers (12-2) get a shot at Purdue, they face off against arch-nemesis Michigan State (11-3). Wisconsin has lost four in a row in East Lansing, dating back to Bo Ryan's first loss to Tom Izzo in 2005.

This seems like two evenly matched teams, though Vegas has installed Sparty as the clear favorite. As the guys from MSU blog The Only Colors point out, both of these teams are doing what they do best. Namely, the Badgers are taking care of the basketball and the Spartans are hoarding their own missed shots. But no team in the nation limits opponent's second chances like Wisconsin.

The 17th-ranked Badgers enter the game scoring about 72 ppg, 10 fewer than the 10th-ranked Spartans. But MSU also gives up approximately 10 more ppg than UW does. See that evenly-matched theme again? As usual, it will come down to execution.

Trevon Hughes has led UW in scoring the past two games to snap out of the sleepwalk he was in prior to facing Ohio State. But the trepidation for Badger fans stems from Jon Leuer's inability to stay out of foul trouble at all in the team's first two Big Ten games (the same Leuer, btw, that The Only Colors mentioned as a possible Big Ten POY). Guys like budding rebound machine Draymond Green could make life difficult again for Leuer when coupled with MSU's ability to drive past the Badgers' perimeter defense to the cup.

Both teams have some depth, with a rotation of seven players and the ability to go 10 (UW) or 11 (MSU) deep if they have to. After seeing Ryan Evans perform against Duke earlier this year, I feel pretty comfortable with Bo's rotation staying composed in a big game. Can he duplicate this poise on the road?

With all the recent history between the two teams, it was not surprising to hear reports that Kalin Lucas allegedly toed the MSU company line with some comments in a recent interview, much like Goran Suton last season. But why would Lucas need to artificially inflate this game by ignorantly calling Wisconsin dirty? Are these guys being brainwashed by the head coach? There is not a single dirty player on this Wisconsin roster; in fact, if anything, many of the current Badgers are still learning to be less passive. Greg Stiemsma ain't walking through that door, Kalin.

Could it be that the Spartans need to pump themselves up to get that marquee win that has eluded them since beating Gonzaga? Since starting 4-0, Izzo's bunch has dropped every game against quality competition -- on a neutral site versus Florida, at North Carolina and at Texas. Incredibly tough slate, no doubt, but you can see why Michigan State might be searching for a balm of sorts. Right now the conference buzz is about Purdue, but a win over this year's new media darlings from Madison would put the Spartans right back at the forefront of the title chase. I, for one, have not forgotten that talent-wise Michigan State is just as stacked as it was to begin the year.

- Hughes was named one of 20 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award yesterday. I'd handicap this year's award for best point-guard as a two-horse race between Duke's Jon Scheyer and Kentucky's John Wall, with Sherron Collins at Kansas an outside consideration. Hughes is among the second-tier group after those three, but we shall see ...
- Sounds like Milwaukee native Calvin Godfrey is pretty comfortable with his new high school team up in Minnesota. The former Milwaukee Custer forward lit up Jordan Taylor's old crew, Benilde-St. Margaret's, on Tuesday night as the Twin Cities Hoops Czar chronicled.

1 comment:

  1. I think your preview is spot-on. The 10 point line in Vegas right now seems crazy to me; it should be an exciting, excruciatingly close game (like they all seem to be).


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