MSU hoops focuses on sole Big Ten title

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

While Michigan State continues to deal with off-court issues, nothing has been able to slow its momentum on the court.

The second-ranked Spartans head to Wisconsin on Sunday for a 1 p.m. tip-off in the regular-season finale. After clinching a share of the Big Ten championship with a victory over Illinois on Tuesday, the Spartans are looking to grab the outright title for the first time since 2009 and extend their winning streak to 12 games.

“We just have to take care of business,” senior guard Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn said after the win over Illinois. “Play smarter, continue to play harder on defense and take care of the basketball. Focus on executing the game plan and we will get the job done.”

That job will include ending a three-game skid at the Kohl Center. The last time Michigan State won in Madison was in 2013. The last meeting, in 2016, was a one-point loss for the Spartans.

And while Wisconsin has struggled this year and will likely miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, Michigan State will focus on not having any sort of letdown.

“There haven’t been many teams even that I’ve had here that have won outright, not enough of them anyway,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said. “So, not only will that be the goal, but I still think the goal’s got to be putting two halves together. We have been a little inconsistent in that area, and so we’ve got a lot of things to get better at and we’re going to get better at them.”

There have been several slow starts for Michigan State (27-3, 15-2 Big Ten) during its 11-game winning streak. However, the Spartans have been able to rally from each, none bigger than erasing a 27-point deficit last weekend at Northwestern.

Taking on an undermanned Wisconsin team, the Spartans hope to avoid anything similar and lock up the top seed in next week’s Big Ten tournament.

“We’ve got to stay hungry and remember that we’re playing to get better,” sophomore guard Cassius Winston said. “We can’t get satisfied. We’ve got to get better because this journey ahead of us is a long one, a hard one, so we’ve got to better each day.”

If they do keep getting better, there’s no reason to think they don’t beat the Badgers (14-16, 7-10) and capture the outright title. If not, Ohio State and Purdue could jump back in and grab a share.

“We want to keep that championship to ourselves,” sophomore Miles Bridges said. “It will be another confidence booster to go into somebody’s home crowd and beat them. They’re a tough team that just beat Purdue, so it’s gonna be tough for us.”

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Tip-off: 1 p.m. Sunday, Kohl Center, Madison, Wis.

TV/radio: CBS/760

Records: No. 2 Michigan State 27-3, 15-2 Big Ten; Wisconsin 14-16, 7-10

Outlook: Wisconsin has won three straight games and four of its last five. … With the win over No. 6 Purdue, Badgers coach Greg Gard improved to 6-5 vs. teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP poll, giving him six wins over top-10 squads in just three seasons. … The 27 wins by the Spartans are the most in a regular season under head coach Tom Izzo. … MSU's 11-game win streak is tied for the longest in the country with Grambling.