For the 135th time on Sunday, the Wisconsin Badgers (18-5, 5-5) and the No.9 Michigan State Spartans (20-3, 9-1) played in another great Big Ten classic at the Kohl Center in Madison. The injury riddled Spartans were without their starting point guard Keith Appling and Adreian Payne was playing in just his second game back after sitting out the previous seven. Wisconsin basketball had not lost 4 straight home games since 1987, with Badger’s uncharacteristically dropping their last 3 at the Kohl Center, Bo Ryan and company would not let that happen.
Traevon Jackson showed us once again why he is one of the most clutch players in college basketball. With the game tied up 58-58 with just 9-seconds left, Jackson calmly brought the ball up the court and pulled up for a mid-range jumper to hear nothing but the bottom of the net. Travis Trice caught the in-bound pass with 3-seconds left and kept us all on the edge of our seats has he heaved up a last second shot that bounced off the rim as time expired.
In the 60-58 win over the Spartans, Wisconsin basketball was back to being the dominant defense we are all used to seeing. The Badger’s defense held a Michigan State team who was averaging 17.5 assists per game to just 9 and Gary Harris, the Big Tens leading scorer shot 3-20 from the field for just 6 points.
Here are 5 things we’ve learned after the win over Michigan State and how the Badgers can continue their success.
Traevon Jackson has the clutch gene.
Bo Ryan has found his big-time, go-to guy on this Wisconsin basketball team. Traevon Jackson has ice that flows through his veins and their isn’t a player in the NCAA who has been more clutch than Jackson has. Last season alone, he sank 3 game-winners and showed his “clutch gene” again on Sunday with his game winning jumper to give the Badger’s a much needed win. The junior point guard finished the game with 7 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds.
Josh Gasser is one of the Big Ten’s best defenders.
Bo Ryan assigned Josh Gasser the tough task of having to defend Michigan State’s Gary Harris. Harris was leading the Big Ten in scoring with 18.2 points a game and with Appling sidelined, Harris knew he needed to have a big game if the Spartans were to escape with a win in Madison. Gasser mirrored and suffocated Harris all afternoon long and became his worst nightmare. Harris was held scoreless in the first half and his first 4 points came off of fast-break opportunities early in the second half. The Big Ten’s leading scorer would finish just 3-20 from the field for only 6 points. Another aspect of Gasser’s game that goes unnoticed is the amount of hustle plays he is involved in. When there is a loose ball, Gasser will be the first player diving on the floor to gain possession and reminds me a lot of a former Wisconsin basketball player, Joe Krabbenhoft.
Freshman Nigel Hayes is the real deal.
Nigel Hayes is paramount to the Wisconsin Badger’s success. The freshman continues to grow and mature after every game and is becoming one of the Big Ten’s most exciting young prospects to watch. Of course, there is still a lot of aspects of his game he can improve and will do so has he gains more experience. Hayes provided 14 points off the bench in the Badger’s win over the Spartans. His quick baseline spin move is too fast for big defenders to guard and you can’t play off him either because of his sweet mid-range jumper he has in his arsenal. When he wasn’t blowing past his defenders he was getting to the foul line where he went 8-12 from the charity stripe. He has a lot of potential and teams in the conference and around the country are just starting to get a taste of Nigel Hayes.
Frank Kaminsky needs to play bigger on defense and gain confidence again on offense.
The big 7-footer, Frank Kaminsky has really struggled on defense this year and in the Badger’s 5 loses this season, teams found a way to exploit his weaknesses. When Kaminsky finds himself outside the lane, is where he struggles the most and we saw the Spartan’s, Adreian Payne take advantage of this. 20 out of Payne’s game-high 24 points came when Kaminsky was guarding him. Granted, Kaminsky guarded one of the Big Ten’s better players for a bulk of the time, but when Nigel Hayes guarded him, he was able to be disruptive causing Payne to struggle on offense and commit careless turnovers. Kaminsky is capable of playing good fundamental sound defense, but I believe that will come when he finds his confidence again on offense. In the previous 3 games, he was averaging just 6-points a game. He managed to finish this game with just 10 points and if Wisconsin is to continue winning, Kaminsky needs to become more of an offensive threat for the Badgers.
Sam Dekker needs to become more assertive on offense.
The Kohl Center in Madison, Wisconsin was once one of the most feared places to play in the Big Ten. What this Wisconsin basketball team seems to be lacking as of late is a player who can get the fans yelling and off their seats with a big play. Sam Dekker is more than capable of being that player. Basketball teams feed off of their fans like fuel to a fire and the “Grateful Red” is waiting for that chance. Dekker’s explosive first step to the hoop is what sets him a part from the rest. Capable of hitting the 3-point shot, he is at his best though when he’s near the rim finishing strong or drawing defenders to open up his teammates on the outside. If the Badger’s are to finish their season on a strong note, it will be because Sam Dekker will become the phenomenal player he is capable of being.
Wisconsin’s next Big Ten match up is this Thursday night at 8:00 PM where they will take on the Minnesota Gophers (16-8, 5-6) in Madison. The Badger’s fell to the Gophers 68-81 in their first meeting this season in Minnesota.