Playing Tough D

Wisconsin's defense propelled it to an ugly win in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals. Michigan State saw first hand in the only regular season meeting between the two just how frustrating that defense can be.

The No. 8 Badgers and No. 19 Spartans face off Saturday in the tournament semifinals as Wisconsin tries to advance to the championship game for the third time in four years.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Wisconsin –3.5 point spread favorites (View College Basketball odds) for today’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on Michigan State +3.5 (View College Basketball bet percentages).

The top-seeded Badgers (27-4) opened the tournament Friday with a 51-34 win over Michigan for its eighth straight win. Joe Krabbenhoft scored 12 points and had seven rebounds, while Michael Flowers added 11 points.

Brian Butch, Wisconsin's leading scorer at 12.7 points per game, was limited by foul trouble and finished with only one point.

The Badgers shot just 34.0 percent from the field, but their defense held Michigan to 10 baskets, 20.0 percent shooting and forced 14 turnovers. It was the lowest-scoring game in Big Ten Tournament history.

"What we do starts with our defense," Krabbenhoft said. "Every single little bucket they get, we're upset because we know defensively we're that good. We can stop them every time."

Wisconsin finished the regular season leading the nation in scoring defense by holding opponents to just 54.3 points. In the last three regular-season games, opponents averaged only 45.0 points, with much of the credit going to Flowers, the Big Ten defensive player of the year.

"He's the most intense player whether it's in the weight room, up in the practice facility, shooting around ... (but) especially on the floor," Krabbenhoft said. "He gives 110 percent every time."

Drew Neitzel and Michigan State (25-7) experienced just how difficult Flowers can be to handle in a 57-42 loss at Madison on Feb. 28. Neitzel scored just three points in that game as the Spartans were held to their second-lowest point total.

"He did a good job keeping me off balance," Neitzel said afterward of Flowers. "Sometimes coming off screens I was open, but I thought he'd be right there on me so I hesitated a little bit."

Neitzel, though, scored a season-high 28 points and added five rebounds in the Spartans' 67-60 win over Ohio State on Friday. Neitzel was 9-of-17 from the floor and connected on six 3-pointers, helping Michigan State overcome 36.7 percent shooting.

"It's big for our team when Drew's knocking down shots," Travis Walton said. "It gives us a different look."

Neitzel, who averaged 18.1 points last season as a junior, finished this season averaging 13.4 and had only six points in Michigan State's loss to the Buckeyes last week.

"This is the best I've felt. I just wanted to come out and be aggressive," said Neitzel, who came in averaging only 7.5 points in six career Big Ten tournament games. "I think in a lot of games this year I was aggressive at certain points, and other parts of games I sat back and let my teammates do the work.

"I got a chance to redeem myself, not only myself but the team got a chance to redeem ourselves, and we took advantage of the opportunity."

Neitzel had just 10 points in Michigan State's 70-57 loss to the Badgers in last season's Big Ten quarterfinals.

Wisconsin advanced to the championship game only to lose to Ohio State. The Spartans have not been to the finals since 2000, when they defeated Illinois en route to the NCAA tournament title.

by: Staff Writers - Email Us

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