Spartans seeking signature win against Wisconsin
East Lansing – — It’s a big day at Breslin Center on Sunday, and only part of that is because Michigan State is facing No. 16 Wisconsin in the final home game of the season.
That alone is a big opportunity for the Spartans, who are looking to shore up their NCAA Tournament resume and a win over the Badgers would certainly aid in that goal.
However, it’s also the final home game for three Michigan State seniors — guards Alvin Ellis and Eron Harris along with forward Matt Van Dyk.
“It’s been an interesting run,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “It’s been fun to watch Alvin start out slow and you always hope your seniors have their best year at the end and there is no question Alvin’s best year is now at the end. I think it’s really important he finish strong and for us to finish strong, so there is a lot on him. Matt Van Dyk is living a dream, you know. And with Eron it is such a shame. Like I said, some like it, some love it and some live it and he was guy that lived it. Somehow, someway I hope he can enjoy the day.
“It’s a sad day but a good day because even though (Harris) only got to play the two years and didn’t get to finish, he probably spent as many hours in this place as the guys that play four years and I’ll always remember that.”
Two other seniors are on the roster, but won’t go through the ceremony. Gavin Schilling is already planning to be back next season after missing all year because of a knee injury. Graduate transfer Ben Carter, who’s also been out with a knee injury, will seek a medical exemption but that has yet to be determined.
The ceremony honoring the seniors will take place after the game, one that is critical for the Spartans as just three games remain in the regular season.
Wisconsin (22-6, 11-4 Big Ten) has lost three of its last four and sits a game behind first-place Purdue in the Big Ten. However, it still offers a chance for Michigan State to add a signature victory.
“Yeah, it was mentioned in the way of big games mean big opportunities,” Izzo said. “It doesn’t solidify anything one way or another but it could give you a big jump. But if we have to use anything other than Senior Day, the last home game with the place rocking (as motivation) … I feel like we’ll be ready to play and don’t know if we need more motivation.”
The Spartans (17-11, 9-6) have won three of their last four and following Thursday’s win over Nebraska, they feel things are starting to come together. In that victory, it was the freshmen leading the way as Miles Bridges and Nick Ward each scored 20 points, Joshua Langford added a career-high 17 and Cassius Winston hadeight assists.
“A lot of that goes toward our confidence,” Winston said. “We’re not freshmen anymore. We’ve played one of the toughest schedules in the country and I feel like we’re ready to take the next step.”
A win in a big game would be that next step, and one that would put Michigan State in solid position heading into the final week of the regular season. Entering the weekend, the Spartans are the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament and would get a double-bye. However, there’s plenty to be decided with the final two games on the road against Illinois and Maryland.
“This is a must-win game that could propel us on that path we need,” Winston said. “Now is the perfect time to make a run. The end of the year, make a run and you never know what can happen. A win against a team like (Wisconsin) would be a huge start.”
No. 16 Wisconsin at Michigan State
Tip-off : 4 p.m. Sunday, Breslin Center, East Lansing
TV/radio : CBS/WJR 760
Records : Wisconsin 22-6, 11-4 Big Ten; Michigan State 17-11, 9-6
Outlook : Michigan State has used nine different starting lineups this season while Wisconsin relies heavily on four seniors. … The Badgers lead the Big Ten in team defense, allowing 61.3 points a game despite giving up 83 in a loss to Ohio State on Thursday. … Wisconsin has won three of the last four in the series while Michigan State has won nine in a row at the Breslin Center.