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Wisconsin vs. Michigan State: Who has the edge

By Compiled by BRIAN LANDMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2000


THREE-POINT SHOOTING: For the season, the Spartans are hitting a higher percentage from beyond the arc (.379) than any other Final Four team and they've been even better in the NCAA Tournament (.405). Senior forward Morris Peterson has been at his best of late (10 of 19, .526) and senior point guard Mateen Cleaves has shown he can shoot a bit, too (9 of 23). Wisconsin has improved significantly in the NCAA Tournament, hitting .380 to .330 during its first 31 games thanks largely to senior guard Jon Bryant (18 of 36). EDGE: Michigan State

REBOUNDING: Despite lacking a true center, the Spartans lead the nation in rebounding margin (11.7) and have outrebounded 33 of 35 opponents. Only Iowa State in the Midwest Region final last weekend and Wisconsin on Feb. 19 have won the battle of the boards. The Badgers did scrape their way to a 29-26 rebounding edge in the second of their three meetings, but in the other two MSU outrebounded them 50-23 and 35-30. The Badgers are eighth in the Big Ten in rebounding margin (minus-1.3). EDGE: Michigan State

DEFENSE: Thanks to tenacious defense and deliberate offense, the Badgers hold teams to 55.8 points, stingiest among the Final Four teams and fourth nationally. The D begins with junior point guard Mike Kelley, the 1999 Big Ten defensive player of the year who came back and set a school single-season record for steals (93) and led the conference in steals (2.66). But the Spartans aren't bad defensively, either. They've allowed just 59.0 points and .393 shooting (a little better than Wisconsin's .398). EDGE: Wisconsin

BENCH: Eight Badgers are averaging double-digit minutes in the NCAA Tournament and coach Dick Bennett has had seven different players start in the tournament. In the four games, Wisconsin's bench has outscored opponents' reserves by an average of 12.0 points (86-38). The Spartans have gone almost as deep during the post-season with seven players averaging double-digit minutes and an eighth, freshman forward Adam Ballinger, averaging 9.7 minutes. But the bench has scored just 36 points (9.0 a game). EDGE: Wisconsin

COACHING: Tom Izzo, in his fifth year as a coach, has 118 wins (a .711 winning percentage), at least a share of the Big Ten title three straight years, two straight Final Fours and two national coach of the year awards. His strength is he empowers his players in the coaching process. For example, he's let Mateen Cleaves get on the players at halftime. Bennett has the experience edge -- a 35-year career -- and has a knack for getting his players to achieve and, quite frankly, overachieve. But MSU is 3-0 against Wisconsin this season. EDGE: Michigan State

INTANGIBLES: The Spartans have been pointing toward this stage ever since their semifinal loss to Duke last year. And their seniors -- Cleaves, Peterson and Granger -- haven't allowed their younger teammates to forget that goal or what it takes to win their first national title since 1979. The Badgers haven't been to the Final Four since 1941 (they beat Washington State to win the title) and they somehow have to overcome their admitted "seeds of doubt" that they can beat a team that has defeated them three times. EDGE: Michigan State

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