The Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball team (24-6, 15-5 Big Ten) are set to take on the Michigan State Spartans (20-11, 11-9) for the second round of the Big Ten tournament. The Badgers enter the tournament as co-Big Ten champions and the two-seed in the conference tournament.
The seven-seed Spartans head into Friday evening’s showdown fresh off a victory over Maryland on Thursday.
Wisconsin starts tournament play fresh off a disappointing loss against Nebraska last weekend. In this game, they lost superstar Johnny Davis to a leg injury that he suffered early in the second half.
Head coach Greg Gard said he was optimistic Davis would be back. Davis was limited in practice this week but has said that he expects to play in the tournament’s opening round Friday night.
Davis, who won the prestigious Big Ten Player of the Year award earlier this week, is a finalist for National Player of the Year. He averages exactly 20 points per game and ranks at or near the top of every major statistical category for Wisconsin.
He is what makes the Badgers go, and needless to say, Wisconsin needs him at 100% if they want to have a real shot at taking home another Big Ten title.
On the other side, senior forward Gabe Brown leads Michigan State — Brown is a fantastic scorer, but his averages are diluted due to the other talent that surrounds him. Brown scored 13 points to go along with six rebounds on Thursday.
Against Maryland, Max Christie carried the Spartans to victory, earning 16 points. Christie also notched six rebounds and made two free throws within the final 10 seconds to lock up the win.
The Spartans have a lot of talent, and they put it all to use. They start multiple legit scorers which keeps them in any game.
Michigan State beat the Badgers by 12 less than six weeks ago. It will take a hearty effort for Gard’s squad if they hope to move on in the tournament.
The Badgers must get more scoring from players other than Davis. While that has been a point made all season to critique Wisconsin, the importance of it grows in March.
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The first time these two teams met, Michigan State stormed into the Kohl Center and dominated a shorthanded Wisconsin team that was playing without Tyler Wahl. In their second meeting, Wahl played, and the Badgers dominated the Spartans from start to finish in East Lansing.
The importance of multi-facet scoring has not been lost on the Badgers, but it still does not come easy for them. A less than 100% Johnny Davis adds an additional concern to this issue.
If the Badgers want to move on, they must get scoring from non-traditional targets. Guys like Steven Crowl, Chris Vogt and Jahcobi Neath will be required to play and contribute in big minutes.
Ultimately Wisconsin is the better team, and an extra day of rest is crucial for Johnny Davis. I think Brad Davison will have a huge game for Wisconsin in his final tournament to help propel the Badgers onto the semifinals.