Previewing the No. 15 Michigan State Spartans

Jake Kocorowski

Fresh off of three consecutive victories over ranked opponents, Wisconsin heads out to East Lansing to try to conquer the No. 15 Michigan State Spartans on Friday night.

MSU lost its first conference matchup of the 2019-20 season on Sunday in a 71-42 defeat at Purdue. Tom Izzo's team shot just 35.3% overall and connected on just two of 16 three-pointers down in West Lafayette.

That being said, Michigan State (13-4 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) still holds a one-game lead in the conference as of Thursday night and an 8-1 record inside the Breslin Center this season.

Checking the old record books, Wisconsin (11-6, 4-2) has not won inside the vaunted Spartan arena since 2004. It also has not played in East Lansing since Jan. 2018, a 76-61 defeat.

"It's a crazy environment," redshirt junior forward Aleem Ford said on Wednesday. "Their fans come out every game and are just loud and rowdy the entire time, and their team feeds off of it when they get rolling. It's something that we'll try to negate, and make sure we limit their runs. It's a game of runs. We'll try to limit them as much as possible, and we know it'll be like a fist fight the entire time so we just got to make sure we keep punching back."

Michigan State Rankings, Stats

  • AP Ranking: No. 15
  • KenPom Ranking: No. 6 (No. 7 adjusted offensive efficiency, No. 30 adjusted defensive efficiency)
Stats
Michigan State
Michigan State's Opponents

Points Per Game

78.9

64.1

Field Goal Percentage

46.3

37.5

Three-Point Percentage

33.6

28.4

Free Throw Percentage

74.7

66.7

Rebounds Per Game

42.8

32.6

Assists Per Game

19.1

13.2

Turnovers

12.8

11.7

Steals Per Game

5.0

6.0

Blocks Per Game

5.6

3.8

Michigan State ranks among the best in the conference in several major categories so far this season. That includes scoring (second), scoring margin (first), assists (first), rebounding margin (second), free throw percentage (third), field goal percentage (third) and field goal percentage defense (third), among others.

Players to Watch

Wisconsin assistant coach Joe Krabbenhoft told AllBadgers.com on Wednesday that Michigan State is led by, in his opinion, "one of the best point guards to ever play college basketball and one of the best in this league" that he has ever seen.

Cassius Winston returned to East Lansing for his senior season and continues to shine as a Spartan. The preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and AP preseason first-team All-America honoree leads the team in scoring (18.8 points per game) and assists (6.2 per game). For that matter, he ranks third and first in the conference for the aforementioned categories, respectively.

One of Winston's various traits that stands out to Wisconsin guard D'Mitrik Trice is his basketball IQ.

"His IQ level is really, really high," Trice said on Wednesday. "Obviously his assist-to turnover ratio is really high, and he just gets everybody involved. Not to mention, he can score the ball obviously, and he's really, really good in the ball screen so those are a few things that stick out to me."

Junior forward Xavier Tillman ranks second in the Big Ten in field goal percentage (55.6%) and third in rebounding (10.1 per game). He leads the team in the latter category and only trails Winston in points per game average (13.9).

Trice noted how the two create opportunities for each other.

"At the top of the key, on-ball screens are the big thing and his throw backs, Tillman's shooting it a little bit better from the three than he was last year," Trice said. "He's able to put it on the floor, and Cassius can find him for lobs and things like that. They play really, really well together in the two-man game, so trying to shut that down and corral that as much as we can is gonna be key to us getting the win."

From Krabbenhoft's perspective, the way the two Spartans complement each other comes from years of experience, whether in practices or game action.

"Rarely do you see Cassius drop it off and Tillman not grab it up wherever, whether it's a pop or short roll, something at the rim, they just they know where each other's going and that just takes time," Krabbenhoft said. "You can see they've got a great synergy going, and Xavier's really -- talk about adding to your game -- I mean he's really become a complete player. He can make plays off the bounce, he can post it, he can shoot it a little bit so he's a really, really good player. On top of it, he's a man. I mean, he's a big body."

Winston and Tillman may be the big names that pop up, but sophomore forwards Aaron Henry (9.6 points, 4.4 rebounds per game in 16 games) and Gabe Brown (8.4, 4.5 in 17) have also produced this season.

"Similar to our team, right, they've all had moments where they've stepped up and helped their team win and taken the load off of a guy like Cassius," Krabbenhoft said. "At certain times, Gabe Brown has done that. Aaron Henry, obviously, we saw that up close when he played really well against us so they have multiple threats. They're deep, they're talented and all those guys can really play. You can't focus too much attention on one guy. I know Cassius gets a lot of it, but the rest of those guys are -- I say the rest of those guys, every single one of them -- deserves respect because they're all really good players."

Update, Jan. 17: Updated Winston's assists numbers to correct amount of 6.2 per game.

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