It will be another first in a year filled with them.
The first time in 81 years the NCAA tournament was canceled.
The first time in 31 years Breslin Center did not allow fans for a game.
And Friday: the first Christmas Day game in Michigan State basketball’s 122-year history. And the first time this season the Spartans will be able to play in front of their families.
“I’m hoping that there’s 500,000 living alums out there that are gonna open up all their presents Christmas morning and turn on the tube and watch the Spartans,” coach Tom Izzo said Wednesday.
They’ll get one extra gift when they flip on the Fox broadcast at 12:30 p.m., when No. 11 MSU (6-1, 0-1 Big Ten) welcomes No. 9 Wisconsin (7-1, 1-1) to East Lansing. Here’s what to watch for in the lone meeting this season between the two Big Ten title contenders and reigning co-champions.
Ho, ho, hoops
It almost seems fitting to match up these two teams’ green, white and red uniforms on Christmas.
Never have the Spartans taken the court on Dec. 25. MSU played on Christmas Eve in 1934, 1941 and 1945. Izzo took his team and won the Pearl Harbor Classic in 1998, but those games spanned Dec. 21-23 in Laie, Hawaii.
Izzo said when he and his staff realized his players would need to remain on campus at Christmas, he pushed to play Christmas Day and consulted with Michigan coach Juwan Howard about how it worked in the NBA.
“It’s just a blessing,” junior swingman Gabe Brown said Wednesday. “A lot of teams don’t get to play on Christmas. So for Michigan State, for the Spartans to go out there and play and compete against a great team, it’s something you could never ask for.”
When the Big Ten announced its schedule, conference leaders felt the college game could seize eyeballs Christmas Day, with the NBA then planning to hold off until January. However, the pros began their season this week and will have a slate of games Friday as well.
“I’ve never played on Christmas before,” junior guard Aaron Henry said. “I’m used to being at home with the family. … It’s exciting because nobody’s ever played on Christmas, and a lot of NBA games are usually played on Christmas. And with that being back, I’m glad the game is early enough so I can catch some of those NBA games.”
They’ll also be able to do some advance scouting as well.
MSU-Wisconsin is one of four Big Ten games Friday. They’ll be followed by Maryland at Purdue (2:30), Michigan at Nebraska (6 p.m.) and Iowa at Minnesota (8 p.m.).
Shaking it off
The Spartans are coming off a lackluster 79-65 loss Sunday at Northwestern to open Big Ten play. Brown said it was a long and disappointing trip home from Evanston, Illinois, but he said captains Henry, Joshua Langford and Foster Loyer almost immediately started watching the film, and the others joined them in breaking down MSU’s mistakes as they left Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“Everybody was doing their part on our way home,” Brown said. “Then we had a meeting and we talked the next morning. Now, we’re trying to just bounce back from that loss.”
Izzo called the game one of his worst in 26 seasons, putting the onus on himself, as well as the players, to show immediate improvement. He felt just as bad rewatching the game.
“The energy that we had coming off a decent week of practice — but it was finals and things like that — I thought was not adequate to what we expect here and that we normally get here,” he said. “So I would say that I felt just as bad watching it, in that respect, and I’m not used to it. … I don’t care who you play where you play them. You better bring it.”
The Badgers opened Big Ten play with a tougher-than-it-appeared 67-53 home win over Nebraska on Tuesday night — their ninth straight conference win and 15th in a row at Kohl Center. The Cornhuskers went up by as many as 10 before Wisconsin used a 14-0 run to overtake them in the second half. Micah Potter scored 10 points with 11 rebounds, one of four Badgers in double figures in scoring. Brad Davidson led them with 15 points and a career-high seven assists. Potter, a 6-foot-10 senior, leads Wisconsin with 13.7 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.
Davison, a 6-4 junior, and senior backcourt-mate D’Mitrik Trice combine for 22.3 points as coach Greg Gard goes eight deep in his rotation. The Badgers’ size inside with Potter and seniors Nate Reuvers (6-11, 11 points per game) and Aleem Ford (6-8, 9.1) could be a tough matchup for MSU, which has struggled to find a consistent frontcourt mate for Wisconsin native Joey Hauser.
The Badgers allow a Big Ten-low 57.5 points a game, which ranks 14th in Division I this season.
“They want to be the best defensive team in the country,” Gard said, “and that’s an everyday challenge.”
Last season, the Spartans beat the Badgers, 67-55, on Jan. 17 at Breslin, then lost, 64-63, in Madison on Feb. 1 to snap an eight-game win streak in the series. That victory sparked Wisconsin to nine wins in its last 10 games to split the Big Ten regular-season title with MSU and Maryland. Their loss to the Badgers sent the Spartans spiraling to four losses in five games before recovering to win their final five and a share of the crown.
Wisconsin 66, MSU 62: The Badgers earn their first win in East Lansing since 2004 by feeding the post often. Hauser fights through a bum knee to keep the Spartans in it, but Wisconsin — the top free-throw shooting team in the conference — seals it at the line late.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State basketball vs. Wisconsin: Scouting report, prediction
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