The Michigan State Spartans will try to come back after the team’s first loss at home to Northwestern, and MSU couldn’t have picked a much harder game to get back on track. A trip to Madison against the Wisconsin Badgers is never easy, especially when those guys up there are putting together a great season. Here’s everything you need to know for the upcoming game:
When: January 21, 2022, 9:00 PM ET
Where: Kohl Center, Madison, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin State Program
Whoever thought “The Badger” horror series would come without a sequel after Bo Ryan called it a career — from an adversary’s perspective — was sadly wrong. Greg Gard has taken over the director’s chair as head coach, producing some quintessential Dairyland blockbusters along the way. Gard took over midway through the 2015-2016 season after Ryan stepped down and in fact has continued many of the things his predecessor and longtime mentor did.
Outside of a bad 2017-2018 campaign in which the Badgers finished ninth in the Big Ten and with a negative overall record, he had his short-legged omnivores in the Big Dance every year and even won a joint Big Ten title in 2020. The Ties were never much of a challenge to national glory though, aside from two Sweet 16 appearances (maybe it was the short legs!) but it looks like this year’s team could take that step forward.
Other than that, things haven’t gone smoothly for Gard. There were rumors over the years that he struggled a bit with recruiting certain names, especially the Hauser boys (Joey and Sam). Last year, a report surfaced of a leaked recording of a secret meeting where numerous seniors openly confronted Gard about his relationship with the team. Apparently that was 37 very emotional minutes, and then Gard apologized and took quite a bit of blame. Considering how well this season is going, though, it’s hard to put too much into the entire episode or some of the rumors, other than Gard knows how to get his team ready to play no matter what. For a man in his position it’s also hugely impressive to think for himself and openly accept criticism, and it seems like it helped him a lot with this year’s group.
How Wisconsin is doing this season
The Badgers are actually doing a damn good job! Wisconsin is 15-2 on the season and has racked up some impressive wins along the way. The Badgers defeated Houston (No. 7 in KenPom), Ohio State (No. 23 in KenPom) and they entered Mackey and defeated Purdue’s huge dragon down the road (No. 4 in KenPom). Wisconsin’s only two losses were against a good Providence team (No. 50 in KenPom) without Johnny Davis, and against Ohio State in Columbus, a loss as previously mentioned they have already avenged. In short, this edition of the Badgers has only lost one game at full strength, is a legit top-10 team and is fairly safe among the favorites for the Big Ten title. Wisconsin currently ranks 25th overall in KenPom (one spot behind Michigan State at number 24).
Projected starting position
PG Chucky Hepburn (Fr., 6-2, 211 lbs, 6.8 points, 2.0 assists, 34.0% FG, 28.3% 3P FG)
SG Brad Davison (Sr., 6-4, 202 lbs, 15.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, 39.6% FG, 35.1% 3P)
SG Johnny Davis (so 6-5, 196 pounds, 22.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 44.1% FG, 36.2% 3P)
PF Tyler Wahl (Jr., 6-9, 220lbs, 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 52.0% FG, 9.5% 3P)
C Steven Crowl (so 7-0, 217 lbs, 8.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, 47.8% FG, 32.4% 3P)
C Chris Vogt (Sr., 7-1, 260lbs)
G Lorne Bowman (Fr., 6-2, 180lbs)
What to expect from Wisconsin?
The hungriest badger this season is clearly sophomore guard Johnny Davis, who has a World Type of the Year for Wisconsin. Averaging 22.1 points per game, he was responsible for one of the most impressive individual performances in all of college basketball this season, when he scored 37 points against Matt Painter’s highly regarded Boilermakers (after already scoring 30 points). against Houston).
Davis has made a huge jump from last year when he averaged just 7.0 points per game and is clearly the best for Wisconsin offense. He is a tall guard, very resilient and has a quick, long first step. He is extremely active, has a high running engine and is extremely responsive for his size (especially attacking). While not the best ball handler, he has a variety of moves, a strong mid-range play, can operate on the post and likes to drive aggressively to the basket. His impressive year has been marked by a strong, active defense, a team-first attitude and some great performances in clutch situations. He’s not much of a shooter (his movement looks a bit odd, especially his off-hand), but he can also get hot off the center easily.
The problem with Davis being a real star this year is that the rest of Wisconsin is still doing a lot of things in Wisconsin as well. Yes, so does our dear friend Mr. Brad Davison, who, as you may have furiously realized in the scheduled grid, is still active for the Badgers. With a seemingly 20th year under his belt (OK, he’s really into his fifth year with the program now), he’s become even more of the player he used to be – a stingy defender who gets under your skin, plus a man who can present you some real problems of deep range.
While the quiet and more reserved Davis could be the Wisconsin team’s engine, Davison could be the Badgers’ loud exhaust. Outside of him, Wisconsin completes his starting grid with fairly flat-footed, but damn solid bigs with good fundamentals (Wahl & Crowl), and a young, inexperienced point guard who doesn’t hurt the team too much with his inexperience (Hepburn). The rotation is short, no one outside of the starters averages much more than three points per game, even though Detroit freshman Lorne Bowman has hit 10 of his 19 three-point attempts. They taught him well in the beautiful state of Michigan, didn’t they! Center Chris Vogt is the other player from the bench who gets regular playing time.
Looking at the numbers, the badgers also rely on some of their program’s traditional stables, even if they work with a younger team than usual (only one senior starts). The Badgers hardly ever turn the ball around (just 8.2 turnovers per game), they play a fundamentally healthy defense without making too many mistakes or beating themselves a lot, and share the ball in all five positions. Wisconsin also plays a traditional slower tempo, but this is where it gets interesting. Gard makes this year’s group play a little looser and faster (which certainly suits Johnny Davis’s play) than usual, and other than taking care of the ball or drawing mistakes (yuck!), the Badgers really don’t do many things very good. Wisconsin actually shoots the ball worse than its opponents (42.0 percent vs. 43.1 percent) and is quite similar in rebound speed. Due to the team’s low sales figures so far, these things aren’t really impacting the overall results, but they should be looked at.
Individually, however, the Badgers can make up for many of their perceived shortcomings. Davis can score anywhere and in many ways, even if he prefers the left side of the field. Wisconsin likes to go to the post where all of its big men, and especially Wahl, have a nicely rounded game that attacks with both hands. The badgers spread out the floor nicely, with Crowl being a three-point threat from center position, and actually attack the paint a lot more than former Wisconsin teams have done. Playing the Badgers upright can be a challenge and when a defense rotates, YOU do a good job exploiting weaknesses and mismatches immediately.
Main matchup: Max Christie/Gabe Brown vs. Brad Davison/Johnny Davis
The wings are where the meat should be in this game. By far Wisconsin’s top scorers are Davison and Davis and if Brown and Christie don’t show up, it’s going to be a long night for the Spartans. Physically and athletically, however, Michigan State could certainly be a good match for those two Badgers, and it could be interesting how Davis stacks up against two guys who are taller than him and maybe even more athletic. Anyway, while MSU has the advantage on the point and in the post, the Spartans on the wing can’t lose their matchup too badly.
Enjoy the game! GO GREEN!