MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS (20-3)
at WISCONSIN BADGERS (18-5)
Kohl Center– Madison, WI
Tip-off: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: Wisconsin -4, Total: 133.5
No. 9 Michigan State could finally be at full strength when it hits the road Sunday afternoon to take on Wisconsin.
The Spartans started the season 18-1, but have alternated wins and losses in each of the past five games and are coming off an 82-67 victory over Penn State on Thursday night. However, the biggest victory in that game was the return of C/F Adreian Payne, who had been out seven games with a foot injury. He scored 12 points and grabbed three rebounds in 18 minutes of action, helping Michigan State improve to 13-9 ATS overall and 7-3 ATS (9-1 SU) in Big Ten play. Injuries have hurt the Spartans as of late, as starting SF Branden Dawson remains out for another three weeks with a hand injury, while starting PG Keith Appling (wrist) missed Thursday's game and is questionable for Sunday. Like the Spartans, the Badgers got off to a terrific start this season, winning their first 16 games. However, things have not been so smooth as of late, as the Badgers have lost five of their past seven contests (SU and ATS) to fall to 11-10-2 ATS overall and 4-6 ATS (5-5 SU) in the conference. Under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has been one of the most consistent teams in the country, and especially good at defending home court. In the previous three seasons, the Badgers lost just five conference home games, but have already lost three this season, going 10-3 SU and 5-7-1 ATS at Kohl Center. Michigan State has dominated this series with five consecutive victories (SU and ATS) including two straight in Madison. In last season's two wins, the Spartans defense suffocated the Badgers, allowing just 45.0 PPG in the two matchups.
Which Big Ten team will prevail on Sunday? For the latest college basketball picks, check out The Platinum Sheet for all the StatFox Experts selections every week throughout the entire 2013-14 season. The StatFox Experts have been rolling in college basketball Best Bets this season with a 59% ATS (193-135-6) mark, including a stellar 62% ATS (161-101-5) record since Nov. 23. StatFox Brian is at 64% ATS (42-24-2) in Best Bets for the season and 67% ATS (35-17-1) since Nov. 26. StatFox Dave is 61% ATS (40-26-1) for the season and 68% ATS (23-11) since Dec. 18, while StatFox Scott is a hefty 59% ATS (39-27-1) for the season and 62% ATS (29-18-1) since Dec. 2. StatFox Zach is a strong 58% ATS (37-27-3) on Best Bets this season, including 61% ATS (31-20-2) since Nov. 22, while StatFox Gary is 53% ATS (35-31-2) for the season, and 57% ATS (29-22) since Nov. 29.
Michigan State has been strong on both ends of the court this season, scoring 78.5 PPG (38th in nation) on 47.1% FG (52nd in Div. I) with a whopping 17.5 APG (5th in nation). The Spartans are also a strong rebounding club (38.7 RPG, 33rd in Div. I) and rank among the top-50 teams in the nation in scoring defense (65.0 PPG), steals (7.8 SPG) and blocks (5.2 BPG). Head coach Tom Izzo has one of the most experienced teams in all of the country, with stars all over the court. SG Gary Harris (18.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.7 APG, 2.0 SPG) has taken his game to the next level. In his past five contests, Harris is averaging 18.8 PPG (43% threes) and 2.2 SPG. He is as complete of scorer as there is in the country, but he struggled last season versus Wisconsin, averaging only 8.5 PPG on 7-of-17 FG (41%). But with the return of C/F Adrien Payne (15.9 PPG, 7.4 RPG) down low, things will only get easier on the offensive end for Harris. Payne had a terrible game in Madison last season with two points and two rebounds in 33 minutes of action, but played much stronger in the home win against the Badgers with nine points and 11 boards. While Payne returned on Thursday, another player went to the bench. PG Keith Appling (15.0 PPG, 4.9 APG, 3.5 APG) missed the first game of his career on Thursday night against Penn State, and is questionable for Sunday. Appling is a terrific leader throughout his four-year career as a point guard for the Spartans, and he torched Wisconsin for 19.0 PPG and 5.5 RPG in last season's two games. If Appling cannot play Sunday, PG Denzel Valentine showed that he is more than capable of filling in, finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and four steals Thursday against the Nittany Lions. Sharp-shooting SF Kenny Kaminski (6.1 PPG, 51% threes) is coming on in his freshman season, finishing with 19 points on 7-of-9 FG and 5-of-6 threes in the victory over Penn State. As this team continues to get healthier, they are going to become even more difficult to beat. Izzo has a streak where every player that has played through his senior year has made the Final Four, and that streak is on the line this season.
Wisconsin has been a more powerful offense than in years' past, scoring 73.6 PPG (124th in Div. I) on 45.8% FG (105th in nation), and has taken great care of the basketball with only 8.3 turnovers per game (2nd-fewest in Div. I). The Badgers have also been stingy on defense by allowing only 63.3 PPG (34th in nation) on 42.4% FG and 33.2% threes, but they have surrendered 68.3 PPG during their past seven games. Wisconsin has also struggled to clean the glass, ranking 252nd in the country in rebounding (33.7 RPG), which could be a huge factor Sunday against a relentless Spartans team. Although Bo Ryan’s team has not been playing their best basketball in the past three weeks, this is still a squad that has defeated three ranked opponents, including now-No. 3 Florida, and there is still a lot of talent on this roster. SF Sam Dekker (13.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG) is a talented forward that has the ability to score off the dribble, as well as taking his defenders down on the block. He has scored in double-figures in 12 of his past 14 contests, but was very quiet in last season's series with MSU, tallying only 6.0 PPG and 2.5 RPG. SG Ben Brust (13.3 PPG, 40% threes, 4.7 RPG, 40 % from three), C Frank Kaminsky (12.4 PPG, 41% threes, 6.0 RPG) and PG Traevon Jackson (11.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 3.9 APG) are all capable of having big games scoring. Brust has 16.7 PPG in his past three games and averaged 9.0 PPG (5-for-14 FG) in the two losses to Michigan State last season. Kaminsky has 14 double-figure scoring games this season, including 43 points versus North Dakota, but has been limited to 6.0 PPG on 4-of-16 FG over his past three contests. Jackson played very well in Tuesday's loss at Illinois (14 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists), and could benefit greatly from the potential absence of Keith Appling. In last season's two defeats to the Spartans, Jackson averaged a paltry 3.5 PPG on 2-of-13 FG.