NEW YORK — The hearts? That’s a given. And there isn’t a doubt in his mind that Wisconsin’s heads will be in the right place.
It’s the Badgers’ legs that worry Robbie Hummel. A bit.
“I think you know you can play with them,” Hummel, the Big Ten Network analyst and former Purdue star, said of Wisconsin’s rematch with Michigan State on Friday in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals. “You worry about fatigue, I think.”
Despite a late rally, the Badgers fell 68-63 to the Spartans in Madison on Sunday in the regular-season finale for both teams. Wisconsin (15-17), the No. 9 seed in the league tourney, knocked off Maryland 59-54 Thursday for the right to take on No. 1 seed Michigan State (28-3) in the quarters.
“This is going to be their second game in two days against a team that’s definitely deep and can really bring it to you in the front court,” Hummel said of the Badgers. “They’re going to really have to box out and rebound.”
The Spartans’ physical gifts are undeniable, but the focus and concentration levels of a young roster remain a mystery as they open league tourney play.
‘[You say], ‘We just have to make a couple more shots down the stretch.’ Because they were right there with Michigan State.’
— BTN analyst and former Purdue standout Robbie Hummel on the Wisconsin Badgers
While Michigan State is riding a 12-game winning streak into Manhattan, not every evening has ended rosily. Coach Tom Izzo and his program have landed squarely in the crosshairs of a series of unflattering media investigative pieces over the last five weeks.
A long month for Sparty got longer when standout swingman Miles Bridges was named in a Yahoo Sports story alleging that he may have received improper benefits. The 6-foot-7 Flint, Mich., native reportedly got cleared to play by the NCAA only an hour before the Spartans left for Madison, Wis., late last week. He wound up misfiring on 12 of 15 attempts from the floor and was 0 for 8 from beyond the arc at the Kohl Center.
“We contained him from the perimeter, [he’s] a really good outside shooter,” Wisconsin guard Khalil Iverson said. “He got a dunk the first play of the game, but I think we also played defense as a whole and we kind of cut off those driving lanes and things like that that usually get him going. It wasn’t just one guy playing a 1-on-1, it was the whole team. That’s how we stop a guy like that.”
It takes a village. And an awfully, awfully tight ship. Since 2000, Big Ten teams after Valentine’s Day have drawn a quick-turnaround rematch with an Izzo squad six times — in other words, six occasions in which the second meeting happened within seven days or fewer.
The results aren’t conclusive, but there’s nothing great about them, either: The Spartans’ opponents went 3-3 in the first matchup, and 2-4 in the second.
And the only team to sweep both affairs? The Badgers, in 2007:
Wisconsin that winter knocked off the Spartans 52-50 at home on March 3 to end the regular season, then drew Michigan State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tourney on March 6, topping the Spartans again, 70-57.
“You know what? I think the [confidence] in saying, ‘Hey, we were right there with those guys less than a week ago,’ it can really boost you as a player,” Hummel said. “[You say], ‘We just have to make a couple more shots down the stretch.’ Because they were right there with Michigan State.”