MSU faces Wisconsin team with lofty aspirations

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Wisconsin likely won't have Traevon Jackson back in the lineup on Sunday, but that doesn't mean the Badgers won't present all sorts of problems for Michigan State.

At 25-3 overall and 13-2 in the Big Ten, Wisconsin is battling for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and can clinch a share of the conference regular-season title with a win over Michigan State.

The Spartans have won six of the last seven meetings and the teams have had their share of battles over the years, but Michigan State coach Tom Izzo sees an even better team than the one that reached the Final Four last season.

"You I know, I think they're a lot better," Izzo said. "They've got great size and everything. But offensively they're a lot, lot better."

That's because of senior center Frank Kaminsky, a candidate for national player of the year, and junior forward Sam Dekker, who is averaging 14 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting better than 52 percent in conference play.

Kaminsky is fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.7 a game and is second in rebounding at 8.3. And he's had his share of success against Michigan State. In the Big Ten tournament last season, Michigan State got the win but Kaminsky scored 28.

This is the only meeting between the teams this season and Kaminsky, again, will be at the center of the action.

"There is no question after watching hours and hours of tape that if he's not the player of the year in the country then I question it," Izzo said. "I think (Duke's Jahlil) Okafor is a heck of a player and there are some other guys, but this kid has improved so much. He's not shooting as many threes, he's taking it off the dribble more, he's passing better. He's really done a great job."

Jackson, who has missed the last 11 games with a broken right foot, hasn't been cleared by the medical staff, meaning he likely won't play on senior day. But there has been little drop-off as sophomore Bronson Koenig is averaging 12 points while 45.6 percent from 3-point range the 11 games he has started.

Where Koenig has truly excelled is taking care of the ball. He has one of the best assist-to-turnover rations in the nation and is a big reason the Badgers rarely beat themselves.

They lead the nation in fewest fouls (12.7 avg.), fewest turnovers (7.5 TOs avg.) and fewest opposing free-throw attempts per game (11.6). The Badgers also rank eighth in the NCAA in scoring defense (55.6 ppg).

"There is a couple of things they don't do," Izzo said. "They don't turn the ball over and they don't foul, so it's harder to score points if you never get to the line. I think teams are averaging like 10 free throws a game against them, which is incredible. I mean they're getting 21 which is a decent amount, but we're getting 18 now so it's not like it's that big a deal on that end. But on the other end they don't turn it over and they don't foul. So you don't turn it over and don't foul, it's harder to score."

And Michigan State will be attempting to bounce back from Thursday's overtime loss to Minnesota in a building most Big Ten teams struggle. Wisconsin has won 11 straight conference games at the Kohl Center and is 105-14 at home in Big Ten games under Bo Ryan. This season, the Badgers' eight Big Ten home wins have come by an average of 16.1 points.

But the Spartans have won two of their last three in Madison.

"I'm excited about going over there," Izzo said. "It will be a great opportunity for us. It's still a top-five team. I still think they've got the player of the year. I still think Wisconsin is playing for a one seed. I think there's a lot of things that could happen in the next week. So, great opportunity for us."

Michigan State at No. 5 Wisconsin

Tip-off: 4 p.m. Sunday, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.

TV/radio: CBS/WJR 760

Records: Michigan State 19-9, 10-5 Big Ten; Wisconsin 23-5, 13-2

Notable: A win would give Wisconsin at least a share of its 18th Big Ten regular-season championship and the fourth title under Bo Ryan (also in 2002, 2003 and 2008). … In the only regular-season meeting last season, Wisconsin beat Michigan State, 60-58, on a shot by Traevon Jackson in the final seconds. … MSU knocked off Wisconsin in the conference tournament semifinals.