Madison, WI (SportsNetwork.com) - The fifth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers can clinch their 18th Big Ten Conference regular-season title on Sunday, but they'll need to dispose of the visiting Michigan State Spartans in order to do so.
Michigan State is hoping to secure its 20th win of the season with an upset victory today, and actually get back on the positive side of the ledger after dropping a 96-90 overtime decision at home to Minnesota on Thursday. The Spartans have won twice as many league bouts as they've lost this season (10-5), and while they can't win the Big Ten crown, they can still improve their seeding in the upcoming conference tournament, and also continue to make their case for inclusion in the NCAA Tournament.
Wisconsin had been cruising along with 10 straight Big Ten wins, marking the longest run in conference for the program since the 1940-41 campaign, but a 59-53 loss at Maryland last Tuesday brought the team back to earth. As it is, the Badgers sit at 25-3 overall and their 13-2 league ledger has it in first place, two games ahead of both the Terrapins and the Purdue Boilermakers in the loss column. UW has won 11 straight Big Ten home bouts and is a remarkable 105-14 (.882) at home versus league foes under head coach Bo Ryan. This season, each of the team's league home wins have come by an average of 16.1 ppg.
Michigan State owns a 75-61 advantage in the all-time series with Wisconsin, but the Badgers hold a 44-24 lead in games played in Madison. The teams split a pair of meetings in 2013-14, with UW winning at home during the regular season (60-58), and MSU claiming victory in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament (83-75).
Denzel Valentine drained 7-of-12 3-point attempts en route to a game-high 27 points, and Travis Trice tacked on 21 points to go with 10 assists, but those efforts went for naught as Michigan State fell in overtime to visiting Minnesota the last time out. Trice wound up going just 3-of-12 from distance, the team managing a 13-of-32 showing out there for the game. The Golden Gophers, who had five guys score in double figures, shot 51.8 percent from the field, hitting nine treys, and they logged a 29-19 edge in points at the foul line.
For the season, Michigan State is putting up 72.5 ppg in hitting 47.4 percent of its field goal attempts and 39.3 percent of its 3-point tries. The team's defensive effort results in foes netting 62.3 ppg, doing so behind typical shooting outputs of .389 overall and .303 out on the perimeter, the latter two figures ranking MSU first in the Big Ten. Factor in a league-best +8.0 rebounding margin and it's easy to see why the team is well above the break- even point in both overall and conference record. The Spartans have three double-digit scorers in Valentine (14.9 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 4.1 apg), Trice (14.1 ppg, 5.6 apg) and Branden Dawson (12.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg).
Wisconsin came out on the short end in its most recent outing as well, falling at Maryland by six points. The Badgers had an off night offensively, hitting just 38.5 percent of their total shots, which included a 6-of-22 effort from downtown. Add in a disappointing 7-of-12 showing at the free-throw line and the disqualification of Nigel Hayes (10 points) who picked up his fifth personal foul after 30 minutes of action, and a win just wasn't in the cards for the visitors. The Terps made good on 48 percent of their field goal tries, despite going just 2-of-7 from distance. Frank Kaminsky once again was at the top of the stat sheet for UW, as he tallied 18 points and eight rebounds, while San Dekker pitched in with 14 points and nine boards.
Kaminsky continues to make his case for Big Ten Player of the Year consideration, as he averages 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, all while shooting 54.4 percent from the floor, near-40 percent from long range, and 78.4 percent at the charity stripe. Dekker (13.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Hayes (12.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg) round out the double-digit scorers for Wisconsin, which generates 71.6 ppg while permitting a league-low 55.6 ppg. The Badgers' scoring defense actually ranks in the top-10 nationally. UW does a nice job cleaning the glass as well, logging a +5.9 rebounding differential to rank right behind the Spartans in the Big Ten.