MSU coach Tom Izzo sees an opportunity to strengthen the Spartans' hold on first place in the Big Ten. (Dale G. Young / Detroit News)
East Lansing — Wisconsin hasn’t won a game at the Kohl Center since Jan. 8, so it seems fitting that Michigan State heads to Madison to face the Badgers on Sunday in a game the home team will be desperate to win.
Of course, now that the ninth-ranked Spartans have a chance to take a full-game lead in the Big Ten by virtue of Michigan’s loss to Iowa on Saturday, the Spartans aren’t any less eager to pick up a victory.
At least that’s the way coach Tom Izzo sees it.
“Yeah, it’s the nature of our beast,” Izzo said. “Everyone is desperate against us and I don’t care, we’re desperate too. We’re playing for a championship, so the way I look at it we’re real desperate right now.”
Michigan State (20-3, 9-1 Big Ten) holds a slight lead over Michigan and will have a chance to extend that lead at a place where it has had recent success, winning the last two trips to Wisconsin and winning five straight overall in the series.
It’s been an impressive turnaround considering the Spartans went through a stretch of 19 games against the Badgers with only six victories. Now they’ve won eight of the last 10.
“I’ve been on the other side of that, too,” Izzo said, reflecting on the long streak of difficulties against Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan. “I don’t know. I think that, unfortunately, the two coaches don’t get to play. It’s the players that play. I don’t know how much that is going to have to do with (Sunday’s game).”
Michigan State might play its second straight game without point guard Keith Appling, who missed the first game of his career on Thursday in a victory over Penn State while resting a sore wrist. He made the trip to Wisconsin but Izzo was unsure if the senior would play.
Forward Adreian Payne will play for the second straight game after missing seven with a sprained right foot. He might even be back in the starting lineup after playing 18 minutes against Penn State.
While Michigan State has managed to overcome a rash of injuries to stay atop the Big Ten, Wisconsin has crashed to earth after winning its first 16 games of the season. Since then, the Badgers are 2-5 and have essentially played themselves out of the conference race.
None of that, however, has Izzo thinking Sunday’s game will be anything less than a battle. He expects to see a Wisconsin team more like the one that scored 75 points in a victory over Illinois early in the week.
“They’re a lot better than they were playing for a while there,” he said. “They went through a stretch where I didn’t think they were executing like they executed it (early in the season).
“They do run some different things. They’ve got different kinds of lineups, you know. They’ll play sometimes four guards a lot and even go with four guards and the Hayes kid who’s only 6-7 and so it creates some matchup issues. It’s one good thing about having A.P. back, at least he can cover different positions.”