The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team (12-9, 5-5 Big Ten) will return home to the Kohl Center Saturday night after a tough two-game road trip to face the No. 14 ranked Michigan State Spartans (16-5, 8-2).

The last week and a half has been downright brutal for the Badgers. They’ve dropped three of their last four and blew a 12-point second half lead Tuesday to No. 19 Iowa. To add insult to injury, junior guard Brad Davison has been suspended for Saturday’s game for a cheap shot in the waning seconds of the ugly Iowa loss.

As a cherry on top, budding redshirt sophomore Kobe King announced he’s leaving the team amidst rumors he was unhappy with how he was being used in Greg Gard’s system. With King gone and Davison out, it will take massive efforts from D’Mitrik Trice and Brevin Pritzl to compete with Cassius Winston, a likely All American.

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Winston has been on a tear all season, averaging 18 points, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals per contest to this point in the season. The Badgers held him to just six points on 25% shooting in their Jan. 17th matchup, but that feels unlikely this time around with all of the holes in Wisconsin’s lineup.

On the bright side, Trice has scored in double digits each of the last three games and seems to be taking his extra responsibilities in stride. He’s shot just over 60% from deep over that same stretch.

Pritzl will likely matchup with Rocket Watts—who’s had an up and down freshman campaign. Watts has shot just 35.6% from the field this year and may have trouble with Pritzl’s shooting and veteran experience.

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Down low, we’ll see an always intriguing matchup between polar opposites. UW’s 6-foot-11-inch junior Nathan Reuvers comes in at 235 pounds and primarily stays out on the perimeter offensively. 

MSU’s Xavier Tillman has a 10 pound advantage, but stands just 6-foot-8-inches tall. His strength more than makes up for his height on the glass, and Tillman makes a living running rim to rim. His elite ability as a trail in transition is one of the main reasons Winston averages upwards of six assists per game.

In the mid-January matchup, Reuvers finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and two blocks. But Tillman got the win as he put up 15 points, nine rebounds and four assists of his own.

Greg Gard might want to consider running more zone defense against the smaller Spartans. Reuvers and Micah Potter on each side of the key should minimize Tillman, forcing Michigan State to shoot outside shots.

With the speedy Trice up top and longer guys like Pritzl, Aleem Ford and Tyler Wahl on the wing, Wisconsin should disrupt enough of those deep balls to give themselves a fighting chance.

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But even with a perfect strategy and the strength of the Kohl Center behind them, this will be a very tough game for the struggling Badgers.

Amid the madhouse college basketball has become in 2020, Tom Izzo and his Spartans have remained one of the most consistent teams in the country. There’s a reason they’re sitting atop the Big Ten.

Plenty of fans will call for Gard’s job if we fall below .500 in conference play, and maybe rightfully so. But Wisconsin should be entering this game feeling like they have nothing to lose with everything going against them.

You can catch the game at noon this Saturday on FOX Sports, or listen in live to Badger Radio Network.