By TOM LEA
Try telling an athlete about an unfavorable matchup and you’ll likely get a determined or angst-ridden look thrown back your way.
Try telling a guy like senior guard Jordan Taylor that his Badgers squad may have an issue keeping pace with the rebounding prowess of Michigan State and you get an almost defensive response.
“We want to out rebound them,” Taylor said. “We know they’re big, but we’ve got guys who can rebound, too. It’s definitely not the biggest guy who always wins. We’re just trying to find ways to go in and neutralize their size. We can rebound, too.
“You’ve just got to go in there, be tough, scrap and fight.”
Easier said than done.
Michigan State leads the Big Ten in every rebounding category. Tom Izzo’s squad averages 40 rebounds per given night, 11 coming on the offensive end. It also holds a plus-10 ½ rebounding margin against opponents, limiting them to just 29.5 boards per contest.
“Draymond Green makes them a good rebounding team,” UW junior Ryan Evans said. “He’s a guy averaging 12 rebounds a game (in league play). I had 17 points and 11 rebounds last game and that’s what this guy is averaging. It’s going to be interesting.
“We’re all going to have to contribute on the glass.”
Evans has emerged as UW’s top rebounding threat. Averaging 6.8 boards per game, Evans ranks fourth among the Big Ten’s best rebounders. Only Green (10.5 per game), Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger (9.2 per game) and Illinois’ Meyers Leonard (8 per game) have had more success on the glass than Evans.
The margin between first and fourth place in the league rebounding category, though, is nearly four rebounds per game. That’s nearly four extra possessions one team is given per contest.
“Rebounding will be key,” UW assistant coach Lamont Paris said. “They’ll be physical. We’ll have to shed guys off, kind of like in football when you shed a blocker off and you still make the tackle. We’ll have to shed some guys off and still try to go get the rebound and scrap.
“We’ll be fighting tooth and nail for every loose ball.”
When Wisconsin and Michigan State met earlier this season the Spartans out rebounded the Badgers 41-33. Jared Berggren and Josh Gasser led UW with six rebounds each and Taylor chipped in five.
Green, like he does to a lot of teams, dominated the glass. He reeled in 14 boards, including four on the offensive side of the ball.
“Just his fight,” Evans said when asked what makes Green a good rebounder. “He’s not really that tough of a guy to defend because you know what he’s going to do. Sometimes he can just over will you and get it done. That’s what I’ve got to try to do on the defensive end, not let him overpower me.
“And then I’ve got to contribute on the offensive end at the same time.”
Green, though he’s the conference’s best rebounder, stands only 6-feet-7. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix, two of MSU’s other frontcourt players, are both bigger and wider than Green, but they don’t have quite the same numbers.
They combine to average eight rebounds per game, a number nearly three less than what Green collects in a typical game.
“It’s hard to measure a guy’s heart,” Paris said. “It’s not his size and his length necessarily. It’s just his will to win. He knows who he is and he plays within the parameters he’s good at.
“He’s a great winner and he’s made himself into a really great player.”
If UW expects to win, and thusly stay in the thick of a Big Ten championship race, limiting Green’s rebounding will be essential.
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