Big Ten Banter: Previewing Michigan State at Wisconsin
In 2013-14, the Michigan State Spartans topped the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten tournament, on their way to the tournament title, and are hoping they can knock off the high-powered Badgers on the road on Sunday. (Source: Brian Spurlock - USA Today Spo

Entering Sunday’s action, the two teams in this key Big Ten contest are in two different positions as the season slowly approaches the conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament.

The hometown Wisconsin Badgers are sitting pretty as the season winds down, as they are firmly in the NCAA Tournament field. They are still in the discussion for a number one seed in the field of 68, but will likely need some help down the stretch this season and will likely need to win the conference tournament.

On the other side, the visiting Michigan State Spartans looked like a team who was playing their way into the NCAA Tournament, but it isn’t a for sure thing just yet. The Spartans have had a season full of ups and downs, and are hoping that they can score a win over the Badgers on the road on Sunday to boost their resume and get them firmly inside the field of 68 come Selection Sunday.

Both teams are coming off losses in their last outings, as the Wisconsin Badgers went on the road to College Park and lost at Maryland, while the Spartans were upset on their home floor by Minnesota in overtime.

The loss to the Terrapins put an end to the Badgers’ lengthy ten-game winning streak. The loss to Maryland was their first defeat since being upset against Rutgers back on January 11th. All three of the Badgers’ losses this season have been by 10 points or less, and they are still widely considered a top contender in the NCAA Tournament. The team is still without guard Treveon Jackson with a foot injury. When the injury occurred, many thought the loss would hurt the team in conference play. However, the Badgers have kept on rolling over competition, as others have stepped up in Jackson’s absence to help shoulder the load.

Sunday afternoon, the Wisconsin Badgers will look to avenge their loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten tournament, and guarantee themselves at least a share of the regular season Big Ten title. However, as the case has been so far this season, the Michigan State Spartans are an unpredictable team, and the Badgers cannot afford to overlook them on Sunday.

The Michigan State Spartans have seen their season go a bunch of different directions this year. Entering their last outing, the Spartans were winners of four straight games, and six of their previous seven outings overall. However, on Thursday night, they ran into a determined Minnesota team who wouldn’t settle for anything less than a win. Again, the Spartans struggled to make their free throws when it mattered most, and saw their winning streak end in the process. Michigan State had played their way into the NCAA Tournament field, but the loss to Minnesota was another questionable loss for their tournament resume, and won’t look good in the eyes of the selection committee.

Both teams have something to play for on Sunday afternoon, although it’s safe to argue that the win would do more good for the Spartans than it would for the Badgers. The outcome of the game will likely come down to the play of a select pair of individuals, one per side of the floor.

Players to Watch

For the visiting Michigan State Spartans, the play of Denzel Valentine will determine how the Spartans do on Sunday afternoon in Madison, WI. Valentine is constantly filling the box score on a nightly basis, and he will need to do that again if the visitors want any chance of knocking off the Badgers, and to score their 20th win of the season. The junior guard is averaging 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per contests this season. Valentine has flirted with a triple-double on several occasions, and it’s only a matter of time before he records one before his career with the Spartans comes to an end. He is averaging 23.5 points per game over his last two contests, and will need to keep up his strong offensive play for Michigan State on Sunday afternoon.

As for the hometown Wisconsin Badgers, the play of Frank Kaminsky will go a long way in determining whether or not the Badgers can come away with a win. The 7’0’’ center is widely considered as a top Wooden Award candidate this season, and for good reason. Kaminsky has the inside game and size to dominate opposing forwards, but also has the ability to step out and shoot the three, thus stretching out the defense and opening up opportunities for his teammates. The senior is averaging 17.7 points, 8.3 points, and 1.6 blocks per game this season. Kaminsky gives the Badgers a distinct size advantage over the Spartans’ forwards, and Wisconsin will look to exploit that advantage in front of their home crowd on Sunday afternoon.

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The Michigan State Spartans have a great opportunity to make a statement with a win over the Wisconsin Badgers, and get themselves firmly planted in the field of 68 for the NCAA Tournament. On the other side, the Badgers can take another step closer to a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, and a regular season Big Ten title with a win on their home floor. Keep an eye on this game, as the Spartans and Badgers always seem to bring out the best in one another when they meet on the hardwood.

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