Wisconsin-Michigan State Preview

WISCY'S PARTY NOW HAS POTENTIAL BIG 10 CHAMPIONSHIP RAMIFICATIONS

Nobody in Madison, Wisconsin or East Lansing, Michigan were thinking about winning a piece of the Big 10 regular season championship this past Sunday Night. Wisconsin had just blown their chance (seemingly) with a stunning home loss to Purdue. Michigan State lost a heartbreaker at Michigan. Both teams had FIVE league losses...and you don't win a conference championship that way.

Until...

INDIANA LOST TO OHIO STATE!

The Hoosiers were 8-point favorites in Bloomington in a game we previewed for you this past Tuesday here in the NOTEBOOK. Ohio State was rock solid playing what was probably their best game of the season. That stuck a fourth loss on Indiana, who must now try to win the league title on the ROAD at Michigan this weekend.

If Michigan beats Indiana...that's FIVE losses for the Hoosiers. Ohio State can forge a tie by beating Illinois this weekend. And, the winner of Thursday's game between #22 Wisconsin and #10 Michigan State would also finish with only five losses if they manage to win season finales this weekend as favorites.

How many ways can you carve up a trophy?!

For now...what matters to Wisconsin and Michigan State is that they once again have a chance to call themselves champions. And that brings extra drama to Thursday's nationally televised meeting. Let's run the game through our gauntlet of indicators to see how it might play out...

WON-LOST RECORDS
Wisconsin: 20-9 (11-5 in the Big 10)
Mich. State: 22-7 (11-5 in the Big 10)

Michigan State is well-positioned of course to improve on those records given that Thursday's meeting is on their home floor. Wisconsin will be one of the best 10 loss teams in recent college history if that happens.

COMPUTER RANKINGS
Wisconsin: #13 with Sagarin, #8 with Pomeroy
Mich. State: #8 with Sagarin, #11 with Pomeroy

Interesting that we have disagreement here. Jeff Sagarin of USA Today thinks Michigan State is the better team. College basketball guru gives the edge to Wisconsin. Though, the margin for error with over 300 teams being studied is high enough to just call it a wash. These teams are very closely matched in terms of true quality, which was suggested by their won-lost records.

COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Wisconsin: #4 with Sagarin, #14 with Pomeroy
Mich. State: #1 with Sagarin, #1 with Pomeroy

Both agree that Michigan State has played the toughest schedule in the country. Both agree that Wisconsin has also played a very tough schedule. Each of these teams try to have challenge games pre-conference (particularly Tom Izzo at Michigan State). That plus a killer conference has really battle tested both squads. Neither will be afraid of anything in the Dance.

WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
Wisconsin: 8-8
Mich. State: 7-7

Those records are a helpful reminder that being battle-tested doesn't always mean you get to win every game! Treading water in treacherous seas is a compliment. That being said...they were dinner just as often as they were sharks. Each is capable of going deep in the Dance. Each is capable of losing a coin flip to another power. And...there are several teams in this approximate class at the moment.

JOE LUNARDI'S BRACKETOLOGY
Wisconsin: projected #5 seed
Mich. State: projected #3 seed

We would have Wisconsin higher than that. Though, we recognize that the selection committee is going to have some trouble jamming everyone together on the most logical lines. If you assume Indiana is a #1 or a #2...then you have a bunch of other Big 10 teams and Big East teams right behind them in a way that leaves little room for the likes of Duke, Miami, Kansas and other majors with a case...as well as the hottest mid-majors who are clamoring for at least a #4 (New Mexico and Saint Louis are two that jump to mind). You can make a good mathematical case that Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State all deserve top three seeds, particularly with OSU's big win Tuesday.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Wisconsin: #31
Mich. State: #24

Moving to the chess match now. Both of these ratings are in the trouble zone...in that they represent strong performances nationally...but vulnerable performances once you're talking about Sweet 16 teams or better. Both have had some issues scoring late in close games vs. quality. That's why they're 50/50 against the top 50. Is either good enough to string together SIX wins in the Dance instead of just two or three? We prefer Michigan State's approach because they attack the basket while Wisconsin can become a bit too passive hoping that treys fall. Edge to MSU in our view in this category.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Wisconsin: #3
Mich. State: #9

Both are top 10...and you know how much weight we put on defense in the postseason. Remember that Pomeroy adjusts for both tempo and caliber of opponent. So, Wisconsin isn't a fake #3 because they play slow games. Even after you adjust for that, their points allowed per possession numbers are very low.

POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Wisconsin: #318
Mich. State: #217

Wisconsin is one of the slowest teams in the country. Michigan State is slightly below average...but will look fast compared to Wisconsin! The best way to beat Wisconsin is to pull them out of the mud and make them play at a faster pace. This creates openings against their defense...and takes away some of the energy it takes to drain treys for 40 minutes. We wouldn't be surprised if Michigan State tries to play faster than their norm in this Thursday meeting. You don't want Wisconsin to get set up on defense...and you don't want them patiently waiting for open looks on offense.

BEST EXPECTATION
Michigan State is at home, and is the team better suited to playoff-style basketball in our view. There's evidence for that in recent Dances...as Wisconsin has a bad habit of losing to inferior teams (with a few exceptions), while Michigan State has a great habit of peaking at just the right time! Has the Vegas line fully captured that? You'll have to make that determination before putting your money down at a Las Vegas window.

JIM HURLEY has been studying the Thursday card very closely to find the best options. Wisconsin/Michigan State may show up on the final ticket. We're also looking at...

THE BEST OF THURSDAY BASKETBALL
#19 Oregon at Colorado (danger spot for now-healthy Ducks)
Virginia at Florida State (Cavs must bounce back from BC loss)
Kentucky at Georgia (Calipari's Wildcats on the bubble)
Assorted Tournament Action
Oklahoma City at New York in the NBA on TNT
LA Clippers at Denver in the NBA on TNT

You can always purchase the BEST BETS on the board right here at the website with your credit card. Details on seasonal packages for March Madness or NBA through the playoffs is available in our office at 1-800-323-4453. The tournament schedule is about to get VERY busy, so take care of business now!

Back with you tomorrow to preview an early Saturday tipoff. That Saturday schedule is so big we're going to bump an early tip to the Friday NOTEBOOK! We'll most likely run the Syracuse/Georgetown matchup through the gauntlet (that goes at noon ET Saturday), but Florida/Kentucky is also under consideration. Then our Saturday report is going to be jammed with stat briefs from several showcase showdowns.

There's no better place to be online for handicapping coverage through March Mania. Crunch the numbers with us in the NOTEBOOK...then line up for BIG, JUICY WINNERS from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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