Coach Bo Ryan has Wisconsin playing its trademark tough defense, holding plenty of opponents to unsightly shooting percentages and scoring totals.
Doing the same to Michigan State figures to be far more challenging.
Coming off a dominant offensive performance in their Big Ten opener, the 10th-ranked Spartans will have their status as one of the nation’s most efficient teams put to the test Wednesday night as they host the No. 17 Badgers.
Michigan State (11-3, 1-0) averaged a Big Ten-best 72.0 points in 2008-09 on its way to the national title game, so it’s no shock coach Tom Izzo’s club is scoring a league-best 82.4 per game this season.
The Spartans also rank among the top 10 nationally in shooting percentage (50.7) and assists (19.4 apg), but outdid all three impressive averages in their league opener Saturday at Northwestern. The stingy Wildcats had allowed just 58.9 points per game out of conference, but Michigan State shot 57.4 percent and scored 50 second-half points in a 91-70 rout.
“At halftime, coach told us to be more aggressive. He told me to more aggressive,” said Kalin Lucas, who led the Spartans with 21 points and had four of their 22 assists. “That’s what we did. It paid off. Our defense started locking down and our offense, we just made plays.”
Lucas is the Spartans’ leading scorer (16.1 ppg) and the Big Ten’s preseason player of the year, but Izzo had benched the junior guard prior to the team’s final non-conference game because he was unhappy with his leadership.
Lucas committed six turnovers in his return to the starting lineup, but after going 8 of 12 from the field and tying his highest-scoring output of the season, Izzo was pleased.
“When he is playing aggressively and he is playing the way he is capable of playing, he is one of the best guards in the league and the country,” Izzo said.
Lucas has averaged 15.0 points in three career games versus Wisconsin (12-2, 2-0), but last season’s 61-50 victory in East Lansing was his first in the series. The Badgers had won the previous four meetings—two in the Big Ten tournament.
The Spartans, though, have won four straight home games versus Wisconsin, averaging 69.0 points. Still, they’ve failed to score 65 in any of the last six matchups overall.
It’s been nearly a month since any team scored that many against the Badgers. They opened Big Ten play Thursday by holding then-No. 15 Ohio State to 32.6 percent shooting in a 65-43 home victory, then limited Penn State to 35.4 percent in a 63-46 road win Sunday.
The Badgers are giving up an average of 56.4 points to rank among the nation’s top 10, and they’ve allowed under 60.0 per game the past three seasons.
“The reason we’ve had some success is that defensively we’ve played together with the whole mindset that we can still improve a lot,” Ryan said. “As long as they feel that they’re green and will grow, then we’re in pretty good shape as far as effort is concerned.”
Wisconsin’s week won’t get any easier after visiting East Lansing, returning home Saturday to face fourth-ranked Purdue. To win either game, the Badgers likely need some strong play from Trevon Hughes.
The team’s top scorer has averaged 17.0 in their first two Big Ten games as big man Jon Leuer has battled foul trouble. Hughes has not had much success versus Michigan State, though, averaging 9.7 points on 29.2 percent shooting over the past two seasons.
The Spartans have won seven straight Big Ten home openers since losing 64-63 to Wisconsin on Jan. 12, 2002.
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