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There is only one marquee game on Friday night’s college basketball slate: Michigan State versus Wisconsin. After a rough start to the season, the Spartans have won three consecutive games and are back to .500 in Big Ten play. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is barely holding off Purdue for first place in the conference, so this game is of the utmost importance to the Badgers. Find our best college basketball picks today for Michigan State versus Wisconsin below!
Date: Friday, January 26
Time: 8:00 pm EST
Moneyline: Michigan State N/A | Wisconsin N/A
Wisconsin is only one-half of a game ahead of the No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers in the Big Ten standings; it cannot afford to drop home games against unranked opponents. The Badgers are narrowly holding off Purdue for first place but have a relatively easy path to a Big Ten regular season championship if they win all of the games they are expected to win, including (and especially) this one.
Wisconsin is an entirely different team this season; it ranks sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency (per KenPom) in the nation, which is leaps and bounds better than the 140th ranking it boasted last year. The Badgers used to lean heavily on Chucky Hepburn for offensive output, as he was responsible for scoring at a high level and being the primary facilitator.
Now, Hepburn no longer leads the team in points per game; he is actually sixth in ppg, behind A.J. Storr, Tyler Wahl, Steven Crowl, Max Klesmit, and John Blackwell. Wahl, Crowl, and Klesmit are returners who have continued progressing, especially offensively, while Storr was a transfer and Blackwell was a freshman signing.
Meanwhile, the Michigan State Spartans have had a nightmarish start to the 2023-24 regular season; they were ranked fourth in the preseason polls but dropped out of the A.P. Poll altogether rather quickly. Additionally, they are far from a lock to make the NCAA Tournament, but winning games like this one could propel them back into the March Madness picture, a place where they have historically belonged in the Tom Izzo era.
So don’t count this team out just yet. Izzo has a way of getting his teams to play their best basketball in February and March, and we are only a week away from the former. The Spartans have won three consecutive games, taking care of business at home versus Rutgers and Minnesota before stealing a two-point road win against Maryland, a team that had been playing much better basketball recently.
Michigan State certainly has the personnel to be a sleeper team that sneaks into the NCAA Tournament and causes chaos, similar to last season. The Spartans brought back nearly every key contributor from the 2022-23 team, save Joey Hauser; they returned Tyson Walker, A.J. Hoggard, Malik Hall, Jaden Akins, Tre Hollomon, Mady Sissoko, and Carson Cooper.
Further, they signed Coen Carr, Xavier Booker, and Jeremy Fears Jr., three highly-touted freshmen. Although they scarcely see the floor because of how many talented upperclassmen are rostered, being too deep as a team is often a good problem, as various injuries and foul trouble can always arise.
So, can the Spartans string together their fourth consecutive win in Big Ten play?
We certainly believe that they can. This Michigan State team has actually shot the ball exceptionally well from behind the arc on the road this season (40.3%.) The Spartans are also one of the best three-point defensive teams in the nation (40th in opponent 3P%). At the same time, Wisconsin is horrendous defending the perimeter (306th), which opens the door for Michigan State to create a substantial disparity in that aspect of the game.
A portion of Wisconsin’s struggles to protect the perimeter can be attributed to its strength of schedule (eighth in KenPom’s strength of schedule rating.) However, the same could be said about the Spartans, who rank 21st in that same metric.
While the Badgers protect the ball extraordinarily well (10.0 turnovers per game), Michigan State ranks 27th in the nation in forced turnovers over its past three games, exemplifying an important trend in the right direction. The Spartans have been locking down defensively. In fact, two of their past three opponents have failed to eclipse 60 points.
Wisconsin is a great team, but this is an ideal matchup for the Spartans, even though they lost at home earlier in the season. The team that will take the floor tonight is a much-improved basketball squad that is beginning to resemble who everyone thought they were at the beginning of the season.
Andrew has always been an avid sports fan and followed his hoop dreams all the way to college. He’s well-versed in everything betting with multiple years of experience and is qualitatively and quantitatively knowledgeable in sports statistics and analytics.More info on Andrew Norton
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