The Matchup: Wisconsin (16-9, 8-4 B1G) vs. Michigan State (21-5, 8-5 B1G)
When: Thurs. 18; 8p.m. CT
Where: East Lansing, MI; Breslin Center
Radio: Badgers Sports Network
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won, 77-76
All-Time Series: MSU leads 75-64
G Denzel Valentine. — Sr. 6-5, 220 ( 19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 7.1 apg)
G Eon Harris — Jr. 6-3, 175 (9.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.1 apg)
G Bryn Forbes — Sr. 6-3, 175 (14.0 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.5 apg)
F Matt Costello— Sr. 6-9, 245 (10.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 1.3 apg)
F Deyonta Davis — Fr. 6-10, 245 (7.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.6 apg)
G Bronson Koenig — Jr. 6-4, 193 (13.4 pgg, 2.5 rpg, 2.3 apg)
G Zak Showalter — Jr. 6-2, 180 (7.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 2.2 apg)
F Vitto Brown — Jr. 6-8, 230 (9.5 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 0.6 apg)
F Nigel Hayes — Jr. 6-8, 240 (17.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.3 apg)
F Ethan Happ — Fr. 6-9, 235 (11.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Biggest Matchup: Denzel Valentine vs. Badger Defense
Denzel Valentine, almost without question Michigan State’s best option on the offensive end will be a huge matchup for the Badgers. With Valentine running the point at 6-5, 220 he is a logistical nightmare to guard.
Greg Guard will more than likely call on Nigel Hayes (6-8, 240) to match up with Valentine off the tip. Hayes, being one of the more athletic denfenders on the Badgers, will have to use his size advantage to stay with Valentine and not let him get too many open looks.
Wisconsin allowed Valentine to score 23 points in their win at home against the Spartans earlier this year, this type of production could be deadly if allowed to happen again.
The big issue with this matchup is that it requires a lot of energy out of Hayes on the defensive end. Hayes is the Badgers leading scorer averaging just under 20 points a game for Wisconsin.
Look for bench players to play a key role in defending Valentine. With their sole effort being to shut Valentine down players like Aaron Moesch and Charlie Thomas could be called on to give Hayes a breather.
3 Numbers to Know:
— 27.3: Over the last 7 games, Wisconsin has averaged 27.3 free throw attempts a game. Free throws played a major role in Wisconsin’s previous win over Michigan State. Wisconsin went 29-of-36 from the line where Michigan State only went 12-of-16. Those free points with the clock stopped are huge to Wisconsin’s success.
— 32: Wisconsin has won 32 consecutive games when scoring at least 70 points. This includes 12 wins this season alone. The Badgers beat the Spartans 77-76 the last time these two teams met, adding to the streak.
— 40.6%: Bronson Koenig is shooting 40.6% from 3 in conference play. This is up from his 37.3% from beyond the arc in non-conference games. He is also 52.4% from three in the final five minutes (and overtime) of games. Koenig poured in 27 points including the game winning 3 pointer with 27 seconds left earlier this season against Michigan State.
Prediction: Wisconsin 78, Michigan State 74
This could be considered ill-advised picking the upset but Wisconsin is something else right now. After beating No. 2 Maryland on the road by double digits, this pick does not seem too outlandish.
Nigel Hayes will have to play like he always plays, big. The leader for this team, he will need to stay out of foul trouble as much as possible, which could be difficult with a looming matchup against Denzel Valentine.
Every game for Wisconsin in this 7 game win streak someone other than Nigel Hayes has stepped up and had a game. I do not see it being Ethan Happ tonight, I think the freshman will be too overwhelmed at the Breslin Center and Michigan State’s bigs could eat him up.
I look for another big game out of Bronson Koenig. Something about the bigger stages really clicks for Bronson. Michigan State is one of those teams Koenig tends to play well against. Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo even referred to Koenig as a “Spartan killer” after the previous matchup between the two teams.
Off the bench, Khalil Iverson and Charlie Thomas played big minutes in Maryland on the defensive end, they might need to back up their play with another great performance tonight to ensure the Badgers extend their streak to 8 straight wins.