No. 2 Michigan State (27-3, 15-2 B1G) will conclude its regular season tomorrow at Wisconsin (14-16, 7-10 B1G), where a win will clinch the Spartans’ first outright Big Ten regular season title since 2009.
The Spartans are riding an 11-game winning streak after a 20-point drubbing of Illinois on Tuesday on Senior Night. Miles Bridges led the Spartans with a team-high 19 points and was joined by Cassius Winston and Josh Langford as the other two double-figure scorers. The win clinched at least a share of the Big Ten title, the first time doing so since 2012.
“I’d like to win one [Big Ten title] outright,” head coach Tom Izzo said. “I’d like to really compete in that Big Ten Tournament, but probably as much as anything, we need to get a little better.”
MSU travels to Madison tomorrow in its 143rd all-time meeting with the Badgers, currently leading the all-time series 78-64. The home team has held serve for much of this series, with the Badgers winning 46 of their 70 games played in Madison against MSU. Aside from consecutive wins from the Spartans in 2012 and 2013, the home team has won 20 of the last 22 games played on a college campus.
“I still think the goal’s got to be putting two halves together,” Izzo said. “We have been a little inconsistent in that area, and so we’ve got a lot of things to get better at.”
Greg Gard’s squad comes into tomorrow’s meeting fresh off a win over Northwestern on Thursday and has won four of its last five games, including a 63-57 upset over Purdue at home back on Feb. 15. Redshirt junior Ethan Happ leads the Badgers with 18 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. The 6-foot-10 forward out of Milan, Illinois ranks fourth in the conference in scoring, fourth in rebounding and is tied for eighth in assists.
Sophomore guard Brad Davison joins Happ as the only other scorer averaging double-figures. Davison is scoring 11.5 points per game and leads the team with 55 3-pointers. The Badgers struggle mightily offensively, mustering just 67.5 points per game, which is second-worst in the conference. Defensively, the Spartans allow just 64.7 points per outing, so UW will need to get more from guys like D’Mitrik Trice, Brevin Pritzl and Khalil Iverson.
His status for tomorrow was unclear, but Miles Bridges will play after being cleared by the NCAA, just a day after his mom was named in a Yahoo! report, which provided specifics of federal documents part of an FBI investigation of wrongdoing within college basketball. MSU cleared Bridges Saturday afternoon in a statement issued by interim athletic director Bill Beekman.
“After learning of the allegations in yesterday’s Yahoo! Sports article, our compliance office conducted a thorough internal review. Michigan State presented its findings to the NCAA, and Miles Bridges has been cleared for competition moving forward.”
Another Yahoo! report late Friday night named Associate Head Coach Dwayne Stephens for receiving emails sent from ASM runner Christian Dawkins. The emails were an attempt to ‘trade’ former five-star recruit Brian Bowen’s commitment to the Spartans in exchange for former Spartan Garry Harris and Bridges signing with ASM Sports.
“Throughout my career as a college basketball coach, I’ve been committed to following all NCAA rules, including during the recruiting process. Any insinuation to the contrary is false. I’m confident that I have not committed a violation,” Stephens said in a statement issued Saturday afternoon.
The Spartans’ 27-3 mark is their best 30-game start and most regular season wins in program history. Despite the incessant swirling distractions around MSU, this young group has been unflappable for much of it and will need to lean on its rock, Bridges, the guy that makes this team go. Winston has been instrumental in big road wins this year so expect another poised outing from the sophomore.
The Spartans have an impressive 7-1 mark on the road this year, but a trip to the Kohl Center with a crowd that can get rowdy and a team that’s quickly improving will be a legitimate test. A win tomorrow for MSU would lock up the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. A loss would hand the top seed to Ohio State and pencil in the Spartans as the No. 2 seed.
“We just have to take care of business,” senior Tum Tum Nairn Jr. said. “Play smarter, continue to play harder on defense and take care of the basketball. Focus on executing the game plan and we will get the job done.”
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. on CBS with Kevin Harlan and Bill Raftery on the call.