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Michigan State basketball: Game-by-game predictions for January gauntlet

Michigan State will try to stay alive in the Big Ten title hunt.

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Michigan State basketball
© Nick King/Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Michigan State basketball is facing a tough slate in January so let’s do a game-by-game prediction for the month.

Rewind back to the offseason when Tom Izzo decided not to utilize the portal to add to the 2022-23 Michigan State basketball roster. The Spartans had just lost a few big pieces from a team that won just one NCAA Tournament game last season, but two of them were centers.

That left the Spartans with zero proven centers. Mady Sissoko and Jaxon Kohler would have to carry the load there. The latter has had his freshman struggles, but Mady has looked good.

Heck, Mady went toe-to-toe with two of the best centers in the nation to begin the season and he looked like he belonged. His emergence has been one of the reasons Michigan State rose into the AP Top 25 before the PKI and is currently 9-4 (although two of the losses were inexcusable).

Now Michigan State opens the new year with a gauntlet in January. If it can finish with a 6-3 record or better, you have to feel good about its chances to win the league.

Here’s how I see the month playing out.

Nebraska (Jan. 3)

Fred Hoiberg has worked his magic with Nebraska this season after being a true ‘hot seat’ candidate for a couple of years. His Cornhuskers will come to East Lansing with an 8-6 record and a win over Creighton and a near-upset of Purdue. But Michigan State will lock down with Malik Hall back and win in convincing fashion over a much-improved Nebraska team. And I’m not just saying this because it’s the Izzone alumni game — OK, maybe I am.

Prediction: Nebraska 64, Michigan State 74 (10-4, 2-1 Big Ten)

Michigan (Jan. 7)

This is the game that’s circled on everyone’s calendars. Michigan has struggled this season, but that’s never mattered. You can throw records out the door when it comes to this rivalry game and you know the Spartans will get Michigan’s best shot. Hunter Dickinson has feasted against the Spartans’ bigs in the past few meetings, but Mady Sissoko is going to have a big game defensively. This will be intense, but Michigan State wins a tight one.

Prediction: Michigan 67, Michigan State 71 (11-4, 3-1)

at Wisconsin (Jan. 10)

Ready for a really bold prediction? I think Michigan State basketball will go on the road and give Wisconsin its toughest test of the season, picking up a nice road win over the Badgers. This isn’t the same Wisconsin team that we’re used to seeing with Brad Davison finally gone after a decade-long stint in college, but Greg Gard always has his teams playing at a high level. The Kohl Center is a tough place to play, but Michigan State will steal a big one here.

Prediction: Michigan State 63, Wisconsin 60 (12-4, 4-1)

at Illinois (Jan. 13)

Michigan State has won at Illinois in recent years, but I think going from Madison to Champaign three days later is going to be tough on these guys. Illinois hasn’t played to its potential yet this season but I think it’ll have one of its best games against the Spartans and hand them their first loss since early December. No shame in this loss, but it’s back to the drawing board before facing Goliath.

Prediction: Michigan State 60, Illinois 72 (12-5, 4-2)

Purdue (Jan. 16)

This is usually where we’d see Michigan State let one loss turn into two and then three (happens every single season in Big Ten play) but the Spartans are going to bounce back against Purdue in East Lansing. The Boilermakers and Spartans usually split every year they play twice and — surprise, surprise — the home team wins more often than not. A win here goes a long way for Big Ten title’s sake and we’ll just call this the Tyson Walker game.

Prediction: Purdue 71, Michigan State 76 (13-5, 5-2)

Rutgers (Jan. 19)

Talk about a game that just snuck up on the radar after a shocking upset this past weekend, Rutgers is starting to look like a legit Big Ten title contender after beating Purdue on the road. So this game is far from a sure win. The Scarlet Knights always play Michigan State tough and Paul Mulcahy turned into a Spartan killer last year so we’ll have to hope he’s contained. This one will be excruciatingly close throughout and if you hate the back-and-forth games, you may want to avoid watching.

Prediction: Rutgers 62, Michigan State 64 (14-5, 6-2)

at Indiana (Jan. 22)

After narrowly escaping a home upset against Rutgers, I think Michigan State will have a real shot at beating an Indiana team without Xavier Johnson at point guard, but Assembly Hall is tough. There is not a single easy road game in the Big Ten and this would qualify as one of the top 2-3 toughest environments. Guard play will keep the Spartans in the game, but in the end, there will be just too much Assembly magic for the Hoosiers.

Prediction: Michigan State 62, Indiana 67 (14-6, 6-3)

Iowa (Jan. 26)

Iowa started the season red-hot and has since cooled off a bit but this is the kind of team that can get hot offensively and put up 80-90 points in any given contest. Michigan State’s defense shouldn’t allow that at home, however, as AJ Hoggard, Walker, and Jaden Akins will all lock down the perimeter and force Kris Murray to try and beat them by himself. That won’t work.

Prediction: Iowa 70, Michigan State 77 (15-6, 7-3)

at Purdue (Jan. 29)

The Michigan State basketball schedule for January concludes with its toughest test of the conference season: a road game against (current) No. 1 Purdue. The Boilermakers won’t be the top team in the nation at this point, barring a wild run after losing to Rutgers at home, but they still love to feast on some Spartans in Mackey Arena. West Lafayette is where MSU’s dreams usually go to die. This year will be no different.

Prediction: Michigan State 58, Purdue 73 (15-7, 7-4)

Writer, co-owner of Spartan Shadows. Michigan State and college football expert at FanSided and formerly of The Detroit News. Expert on all things Michigan State. Connor Muldowney has written about Michigan State since graduating from the university with a degree in journalism back in 2013. Ten years of experience as a Michigan State writer/reporter.

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