No. 11 Spartans face No. 20 Badgers in thick of Big 10 race
One team is feeling like it's back in business. The other is kicking itself for a perceived missed opportunity.
Both No. 11 Michigan State and No. 20 Wisconsin know that when they square off on Tuesday night in Madison, Wis., the winner will remain in the thick of the Big Ten championship race, while the other could be scrambling to remain among the conference leaders.
The Spartans (19-5, 10-3 Big Ten) are the team that feels like it rediscovered the formula to winning, the same approach that allowed Michigan State to win 13 games in a row at one point.
Over the last couple of weeks, however, the program staples of defending, rebounding and running had faltered, leading to a three-game skid that had some wondering if the season was headed in the wrong direction.
But Michigan State responded on Saturday with a complete performance by blowing out Minnesota 79-55. It was exactly what the Spartans were looking for.
"It was just, 'Look at the situation and go back to your roots,'" Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. "At times I try to forget where I came from, but I mean that sincerely, you forget what got you to where you are. I think when you have success over and over (and) you hear so many good things (on social media) and I thought we got a little fat and sassy. I really did. I just did not think we did the things we needed to do. I think they understood that, too."
Getting back to those roots led to Michigan State hitting the glass and getting out in transition, leading to 20 fast-break points.
None of it came easily, however. After a loss to Illinois early last week, the Spartans got after it in practice, putting aside that they're playing with a short bench.
"It was tough," senior guard Matt McQuaid said. "We were on a three-game losing streak and our backs were against the wall. Coach challenged us every day, and we needed it, and I feel like we answered the bell, but we gotta continue to build off this."
Continuing it at Wisconsin will be a challenge. Michigan State won in Madison last season but had lost three straight at the Kohl Center before that.
Wisconsin could well be smarting from its loss at Michigan on Saturday, when a win could have vaulted the Badgers (17-7, 9-4) into the thick of the championship hunt.
"It's definitely a game we feel we let slip away," sophomore guard Brad Davison said, "but they're a very good team and we hope to see them again."
Having four conference losses leaves little margin for error for Wisconsin as it tries to finish in the top four in the conference and earn the double-bye in the conference tournament. They begin play Tuesday tied for fourth in the Big Ten with Maryland.
It helps that this game comes against a Michigan State team that is a game ahead in the standings.
"A win today would have (made it) a lot easier going forward," senior center Ethan Happ said after the Michigan loss. "That puts Michigan State at almost a must-win for the Big Ten championship because you saw how good Michigan is. It looks like they're not going to lose a lot more."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 11, 2019