At the beginning of the season I looked at the Big Ten schedule and circled two important games for the Wisconsin Badgers. One was last week against the Ohio State Buckeyes (we all know how that turned out) and the other was Sunday’s matchup against the Michigan State Spartans.
Looking to gain momentum heading towards tournament time, the Badgers are desperate to pull off the upset against ninth ranked Sparty.
There’s been a theme the past month for Wisconsin, desperation. They have lost five of their last seven games and have plummeted into the depths of mediocrity in the Big Ten. A win Sunday will not only boost the Badgers confidence but will hopefully give this team a jumpstart to finish the next month of the regular season strong.
Sam Dekker will need to play strong and step up and be the leader of this team. After going through a bad scoring drought, Dekker broke through against Illinois scoring 16 points and going five-for-nine from the floor. Freshman Nigel Hayes will also have to continue his great play and be at the top of his game against a strong Spartans team.
Speaking of the Spartans and Tom Izzo, they are facing a little adversity of their own. Before beating Penn State Thursday, the Spartans dropped two of three and were without Adreian Payne for seven games. While Sparty saw Payne return to score 12 points in the victory over the Nittany Lions, Izzo and company were without their top defender and the team’s third-best scorer Keith Appling due to a wrist injury. Although Appling hurt the wrist way back on December 4th, a loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels, he played in every game leading up to Thursday.
Izzo has no clue on a timetable for Appling to return, whether it’s against Wisconsin or longer:
I have no idea. This has been the most frustrating. It’s beyond disgusting. I have no timeframe. I know he won’t practice tomorrow. Whether he does on Saturday or plays Sunday or whether we’re going (to Wisconsin) without him, I wish I could tell you. If I knew, I’d tell you.
Losing Appling would be a blow to the Spartans and something Wisconsin would need to take advantage of if in fact he does end up missing Sunday’s game. Regardless Frank Kaminsky and Wisconsin will need to slow down Payne in the middle if they want to be successful. Payne is the type of player that is a game-changer and a presence in the paint both on offense and defense.
The Badgers must also do a better job defending dribble penetration and ball-screens, something that has been an Achilles heel as of late. Traevon Jackson, Ben Brust and Josh Gasser along with Kaminsky, Dekker and Hayes must all communicate and be more aggressive on the defensive end of the court. Gary Harris for the Spartans is as good as they get and a reason he’s the team’s leading scorer. Harris is another player the Badgers must look to contain as well.
There’s no doubt Sunday’s game is a big test for this Badgers squad. More than likely the Big Ten regular season title is out of reach, but they can still gain some big momentum heading into March. A win against one of the best in the nation Michigan State will do just that.
Sunday’s game can be seen on CBS with tip-off set for Noon CT.