When the Wisconsin Badgers take on Michigan State Wednesday night in East Lansing, it will be a chance for them to notch their biggest Big Ten win since their conference championship-clinching victory two years ago.
2007-08 was a season very similar to this year's for the Badgers. That team was expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten but ended up winning the conference en route to 30 victories and a Sweet 16 appearance.
This year's team had almost identical expectations going into the year but right now sit at 12-2 after blowing past their first two Big Ten opponents.
Much like the '07-08 team, this year's team already has some signature wins that have propelled them to overachievement. Two years ago, Wisconsin beat Texas in Austin on a Michael Flowers game-winning three-pointer while also stunning Indiana in Bloomington and stifling Michigan State in the Kohl Center.
This year's team already has its signature win out of conference with its victory over Duke. But they don't yet have a great Big Ten win.
Ohio State could have been that win, but without Evan Turner, the Buckeyes simply aren't the team they could be. Had Turner been healthy for that game, it would have probably been much closer, and the Badgers could definitely have claimed a big-time win. But that simply wasn't the case.
A road win in the Big Ten is always an accomplishment, but winning over Penn State certainly isn't anything to laud. Sure, the Nittany Lions will compete game after game in the Big Ten, but they certainly won't finish anywhere near the top. Besides, it's not really a tough environment to play in when only about 5,000 people show up for PSU home games.
That's why the game against the Spartans is so significant. It will be a chance for Wisconsin to gain that signature win in the Big Ten. The Badgers do take on Purdue on Saturday at the Kohl Center, and while that would be a phenomenal win, I believe a victory over MSU at the Breslin Center would be even better.
First of all, I think Michigan State is better than Purdue. While Sparty does have three losses already, they've been to quality teams, and I think they'll be running on all cylinders throughout Big Ten play.
Secondly, this would show that Wisconsin can win the road games. I've always believed that playing on the road in the Big Ten shows whether a team is elite or simply average, and the game against MSU will go a long way in determining just how good Wisconsin is.
The Badgers have played only two true road games this year, and we all remember what happened in Green Bay. This will be a chance for Wisconsin to prove they can win on the road and would help make up for that loss against the Phoenix.
Lastly, Wisconsin-Michigan State has developed into a great rivalry within the Big Ten. Last year, the Badgers fell 61-50 to Michigan State in the Breslin Center, and they will be looking to avenge that loss this year. In fact, the last time Wisconsin beat Michigan State in East Lansing was when Devin Harris led the team to a 68-64 victory in 2004.
While Duke was an enormous win for the Wisconsin men's basketball program, I believe a victory over Michigan State would trump it in significance. MSU is ranked No. 11 going into the game, and a road win such as this would illustrate what Wisconsin can accomplish more than any win in the Kohl Center would.
We all know what Wisconsin can do at home. It's how they perform on the road that worries many Badger fans—and there is no place where Wisconsin has struggled more than at Michigan State.
Every year, Wisconsin's goal is to win a Big Ten title, and this game will go a long way in determining whether that goal is realistic this season.