Michigan State is in first place in the Big Ten, but a pair of stunning home losses and a lopsided road defeat in its latest game have coach Tom Izzo’s squad looking far from invincible.
Lately, Wisconsin has been the team looking like it can’t lose.
The sixth-ranked Spartans will try to bounce back from a blowout loss Sunday afternoon when they host the surging Badgers, who are looking to counter an earlier six-game losing streak by winning their sixth straight.
Michigan State (20-5, 10-3) reeled off wins in its first five conference games before stumbling in two of its next four, shocking upset losses to unranked Northwestern and Penn State in East Lansing.
The Spartans, however, had been perfect on the road in the Big Ten, winning their first six games by an average of 11.0 points. But instead of pulling off another double-digit win Tuesday at No. 19 Purdue, Michigan State was dreadful offensively, shooting a season-low 32.7 percent and committing a season high-tying 22 turnovers in a 72-54 loss.
“I don’t feel good about a performance like this in a big-time game,” Izzo said.
The Spartans trailed by three at halftime, but the Boilermakers opened the second half on a 7-0 run and never looked back.
“I was elated (at halftime) because we did not play well,” Izzo said. “Then, in the second half, I guess that was a meltdown on our part. Purdue created some turnovers, but some of that other stuff like dribbling it off our foot was borderline ridiculous.”
Point guard Kalin Lucas, Michigan State’s leading scorer at 14.8 points per game, committed six turnovers and shot 2-of-11. Lucas hasn’t been hitting much of anything lately - he’s shooting 30.4 percent in his last five games and has as many turnovers (16) as assists.
Attention on Lucas, though, has increased dramatically without help from Raymar Morgan. The Spartans’ second-leading scorer (11.9), Morgan has been battling mononucleosis, which caused him to miss the three games prior to the Purdue loss.
He returned against the Boilermakers, scoring three points in 14 minutes off the bench.
Izzo said Morgan has made some strides in the last week with his conditioning, but said the junior forward is likely still a week away from being completely recovered.
The Spartans may need all the help they can get against the Badgers (17-9, 8-6), who have won five in a row after a six-game losing streak put their hopes of making an 11th consecutive NCAA tournament in serious jeopardy.
The biggest difference has been defense. Wisconsin allowed its opponents to shoot 50.2 percent and score 68.3 points per game during the losing streak. In winning the last five, the Badgers have held their opponents to 41.7 percent from the field and an average of 49.4 points.
They held Indiana to 21 points after halftime Thursday, turning a one-point lead into a rout as Trevon Hughes and Joe Krabbenhoft combined for 39 points in a 68-51 road win.
“I thought Trevon did a very good job of the ball pressuring,” coach Bo Ryan said. “Then when there was some dribble penetration I thought we did a better job of the rotation.”
Wisconsin could use another big game from Hughes on Sunday, but prior to the victory at Indiana, it had been winning in spite of him. The Badgers’ second-leading scorer at 11.8 points per game, Hughes averaged 6.3 on 21.1 percent shooting in the four previous wins.
Wisconsin overcame a poor shooting night and beat Michigan State 65-63 in Madison on March 15 in the teams’ only meeting last season.
The Spartans have beaten the Badgers in three straight at the Breslin Center.