February 2, 2010

Transition defense key for UW against MSU

MADISON - Considering the way Michigan State rebounds the ball it makes sense that the Spartans would like to push the tempo while attempting to run other teams out of the gym.

Averaging nearly 40 rebounds per game while limiting opponents to just 30 boards a night, allows the Spartans a bevy of second chance opportunities. It also leads to several fast break opportunities where Michigan State operates at its fullest potential.

With a veteran point guard the likes of Kalin Lucas, and solid wing mates such as Chris Allen, Raymar Morgan and Durrell Summers, Michigan State is able to force other teams into playing a faster pace.

Teams can try to slow down their frenetic attack and style of play, but most of the time it doesn't work out that well. Just look at when Michigan State played at Northwestern early in league play.

The Wildcats, a team that usually plays sound defense and doesn't beat themselves, gave up 91 points to a high-flying Spartans squad. Basically, if Michigan State gets running, they can put up points like an NBA team.

Enter Wisconsin.

The Badgers are one of the finest defensive teams in the country. They stick to their basic defensive principles and that translates into a fierce and physical man-to-man defense. When looking at UW's schedule, only three teams have cracked the 70-point barrier, and two of those games went an extra five minutes to decide.

In addition to that, eight of UW's opponents have failed to topple the 50-point plateau.

Tying it back to Michigan State, in the only meeting with UW earlier this season, the Spartans only scored 54 points in its seven-point win. For the year, MSU is averaging 76.5 points per contest.

To say the Badgers did a nice job slowing their up-tempo style of offense would be like saying Beyonce and Taylor Swift had just an okay night at the Grammy's.

"There's still room for improvement," UW senior guard Jason Bohannon said following a recent practice. "They got a couple of easy shots and everything and a couple of more transition points that we would have liked. It was a close game and if we can cut those down to almost zero, that's to our benefit."

But like most things basketball, cutting down Michigan State's fast-break opportunities is easier said than done because it's simply what they strive to do. They continually hammer it at you until you break.

For Wisconsin, it's all about whether or not it can bend without reaching that breaking point.

"If we're shooting bad shots there's going to be the long rebounds and they're going to be able to get out in transition easier," Bohannon said. "For us, if we're getting good shots, that plays to our advantage.

In reality, that is what this game boils down to. If Wisconsin can hit shots at a consistent rate as a team (instead of one player shooting lights out and carrying the team i.e. Nankivil at Purdue) it will limit the long rebounds that could spur a Michigan State fast break.

If that were to occur, the productivity of Lucas and Allen could falter because they seem to be at their finest when out in transition.

"Kalin Lucas does a great job of getting his team (involved) and leading his team," Bohannon said. "He does a great job of getting into the lane and kick outs. Allen is there and knocking down all his shots. He also does a great job of driving to the lane and stuff.

"They do a great job of playing off each other and that's what good teams do."

After a disappointing, but somewhat confidence generating, loss at Purdue last week, UW's Big Ten title hopes took a bit of a tumble. With a win tonight against an undefeated Michigan State squad, though, the Badgers would be right back into the thick of things with basically the full second half of the Big Ten slate yet to unfurl.

"This is a chance to play against a very good team at home," UW junior forward Keaton Nankivil said. "That opportunity doesn't come about every game of the year. It's a good chance to kind of prove ourselves on our home floor."

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