Wisconsin at Michigan State

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As we’ve noted in this space on several occasions, Wisconsin’s chances of continuing its string of annual NCAA Tournament appearances that spans two decades have been in danger for 5-6 weeks. Now as the calendar has hit late January, we can expand that premise to this: UW will not hear its name called on Selection Sunday for the first time since 1998 unless it wins the Big Ten Tournament.

We saw Wisconsin in its richest spot as an underdog this century in a 78-50 loss at Purdue as a 14.5-point ‘dog two Tuesdays ago. On Friday night at Breslin Center in East Lansing, the Badgers are even bigger underdogs at Michigan State.

As of Thursday night, most betting shops had Tom Izzo’s team installed as a 16-point home ‘chalk’ with a total of 134.5.

Michigan State (18-3 straight up, 13-8 against the spread) owns an 8-3 spread record in 11 games as a double-digit home favorite. The Spartans are 12-1 SU and 9-4 ATS at home this year.

After a three-game slump saw MSU go 1-2 SU and 0-3 ATS with a pair of losses by double-digit margins, in addition to an overtime escape vs. Rutgers as a 22-point home favorite, it has responded with a pair of strong performances. Izzo’s squad hosted an Indiana team last Friday that came to Breslin having won five of its last six games, only to be delivered woodshed treatment in an 85-57 loss. The Spartans easily hooked up their betting supporters as 14.5-point home ‘chalk.’

Miles Bridges was the catalyst with 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 from 3-point land. Bridges, the sophomore forward who bypassed the NBA Draft for another year at MSU, had a pair of blocked shots as well. Nick Ward added 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Michigan State followed up the win over IU with an 87-74 victory Monday at Illinois as a 12-point road favorite. The Spartans led by 17 with 3:10 remaining, but Illinois went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to eight by the 1:00 mark. In the final minute, Jaren Jackson Jr. (6-6 FTs) and Bridges (4-4) combined to make 10 straight free throws.

But this was a fortunate cover for Michigan State backers. Illinois narrowed the deficit to 83-74 on Mark Smith’s layup with 18 seconds left. At this point, many teams would quit fouling. The Illini didn’t, though. With 17 seconds remaining, Bridges hit a pair at the charity stripe to build the lead back up to 11. When Illinois missed at the other end, Trent Frazier opted (to the chagrin of many gamblers) to foul Jackson with nine ticks left. He made both to put Sparty ahead by 13 and ahead of the number by one. Therefore, the ATS decision came down to a Kipper Nichols 3-pointer with four seconds remaining. It missed and MSU backers rejoiced.

MSU is ranked sixth in the latest Associated Press Top 25 and No. 26 in the RPI Rankings. The Spartans are 1-3 versus the RPI Top 50 and 5-3 against the Top 100. They have neutral-court wins over North Carolina and UConn, in addition to home wins over Notre Dame, Nebraska and Maryland.

Bridges is averaging 17.6 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, while Ward (14.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG) is making 70.3 percent of his field-goal attempts. Joshua Langford (13.0 PPG) is draining 45.6 percent of his 3-pointers, while Cassius Winston (12.2 PPG, 7.0 APG) has a 146/57 assist-to-turnover ratio and has knocked down 52.9 percent of his treys. Jackson (11.9 PPG, 6.4 RPG) paces the Spartans in steals (0.8 SPG) and blocks (3.3 BPG).

Wisconsin (10-11 SU, 7-12 ATS) has limped to a 1-6 SU record and a 1-5-1 ATS mark in seven road assignments. Greg Gard’s club returned only one starter from last year’s senior-laded team that advanced to the East Region semifinal before losing to Florida at the buzzer in overtime.

Junior power forward Ethan Happ was the lone returning starter. He paces UW in scoring (16.9 PPG), assists (3.8 APG), rebounding (8.5 RPG) and FG percentage (56.4%).

Kobe King, a true freshman guard who was Wisconsin’s Mr. Basketball last year, was expected to play a major role, but his season ended due to a knee injury after only 10 games. D’Mitrik Trice, a sophomore guard, hasn’t played since Dec. 6 due to a foot injury, but he’s nearly ready to return and is listed as ‘questionable’ at MSU. Trice was averaging 9.4 points, 2.3 assists and 2.0 rebounds in UW’s first 10 games.

Wisconsin is No. 137 in the RPI with a 1-6 record against the Top 50 and a 1-9 mark versus the Top 100. Even the one win over No. 47 Western Kentucky was an 81-80 triumph in which the Badgers were the benefactors of two extremely controversial calls in the final minute.

The ‘under’ was on a 4-0-1 run for UW until the 152 combined points sailed ‘over’ the 141.5-point tally in Tuesday’s loss at Iowa. The Badgers have watched the ‘under’ go 10-8-2 overall, 5-1-1 in their road outings.

The ‘over’ is 12-8 overall for the Spartans, 9-3 in their home games. They’ve seen the ‘over’ go 8-3 in their past 11 outings.

Tip-off is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern on Fox Sports 1.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

-- The ‘under’ has cashed in six straight games and eight of the last nine for Harvard. The Crimson, which is 5-1-1 ATS in its past seven lined contests, is at Yale on Friday night. As of early Thursday night, the Bulldogs were listed as 1.5-point home favorites with a total of 134. Yale has failed to cover the spread in five consecutive games and is 2-8 ATS for the season.

-- According to a report from Land of 10, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery isn’t in any danger of being fired following this nightmare of an eighth season at Iowa. The Hawkeyes, who are 11-11 overall and 2-7 in a down year for the Big Ten, apparently received a raise and an extension on Nov. 29. In this new deal, his buyout – should he be fired after this season -- escalated from $4.6 million to $10.2 million. Also, his buyout would be $9 million if Iowa wanted to oust him after the 2018-19 campaign.

-- Texas Tech’s Chris Beard will be coaching in pain Saturday at South Carolina. Beard tore his ACL during a team practice last week.

-- Wofford will host East Tennessee State on Saturday in an outstanding mid-major matchup. The Terriers, who are 15-5 SU, won 79-75 at North Carolina on Dec. 20. They have one of the nation’s most underrated players in junior guard Fletcher Magee, who dropped 27 points on the Tar Heels. Magee is tied for the nation’s lead in FT percentage (96.7%), hitting 59-of-61 attempts from the stripe. The First Academy High School (Orlando) product is averaging 22.7 PPG while making 47.6 percent of his 3-pointers. East Tennessee State is No. 69 in the RPI with its 17-4 record.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.