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and im­por­tant fresh­man re­serve Kobe King (knee) also forced the Badgers to scram­ble in a back­court al­ready short on ex­pe­ri­ence. The early-sea­son sched­ule in­cluded games against four ranked teams, all losses.

Wis­con­sin will have had about a month to ad­just to play­ing with­out Trice and King by the time its Big Ten sched­ule opens on Jan. 2 against In­di­ana.

“We’ve kind of thrown them into the fire,” Happ said re­cently about the Badgers’ fresh­men. “It’s an ad­just­ment pe­riod just like it was for me my fresh­man year ... We’re just go­ing to have to learn and get bet­ter ev­ery day.”

Happ spent the 2014-15 sea­son as a red­shirt, watch­ing and learn­ing from the bench as the Frank Kamin­sky-led team ad­vanced all the way to the na­tional ti­tle game in 2015 be­fore los­ing to Duke. The Blue Devils beat Michi­gan State in the na­tional semi­fi­nals, a team that in­cluded cur­rent Spar­tans Tum Tum Nairn and Gavin Schilling.

They’re se­niors now pro­vid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence off the bench on a team led by a tal­ented sopho­more class in­clud­ing Miles Bridges.

The NBA tal­ent turned down a chance to go one­and-done in the off­sea­son. His re­turn made the sec­ond-ranked Spar­tans (12-1, 2-0) a fa­vorite to make a run deep into March.

But first and fore­most, Michi­gan State is fo­cused on win­ning the Big Ten.

“We have to re­mem­ber our ul­ti­mate goal and that is to win a Big Ten cham­pi­onship,” Bridges said af­ter a 102-60 win over Long Beach State last week. “We’re go­ing to con­tinue to win as many games as we can, we can’t go home and not stay fo­cused.”

Some other notes and things to watch as Big Ten play picks up again next week: EARLY START: Schools are ac­tu­ally re­turn­ing to league play af­ter a twogame win­dow of con­fer­ence games in­ter­rupted non­con­fer­ence play in early De­cem­ber. The sched­ul­ing quirk al­lows for an end to Big Ten reg­u­lar-sea­son play in late Fe­bru­ary to al­low for the con­fer­ence tour­na­ment to be played in New York from Feb. 28-March 4, which is about a week ahead of when it’s usu­ally held. THE CON­TENDERS: Be­sides Michi­gan State, No. 14 Pur­due (12-2) is the only other team ranked in this week’s AP Top 25 poll. Win­ners of eight straight, the con­fi­dent Boil­er­mak­ers head into con­fer­ence play with con­fi­dence-boost­ing non­con­fer­ence wins over Ari­zona, Louisville and But­ler on its re­sume. THE NEXT TIER: There seems to be a lit­tle drop-off to the next tier of Big Ten con­tenders, though teams like Min­nesota, Mary­land and Michi­gan — each 11-3 over­all and 1-1 in the league) are ca­pa­ble of beat­ing any team. North­west­ern (95, 1-1) has played a tough early-sea­son sched­ule, in­clud­ing a 104-78 loss at No. 12 Ok­la­homa last week. The Wild­cats trailed by 30

at the half in that game.

“I knew at least that we weren’t go­ing to win the game. It was more about try­ing to build our habits go­ing for­ward as we head into con­fer­ence,” coach Chris Collins said.

THE OTH­ERS: Three schools peren­ni­ally in the lower half of the stand­ings are off to solid starts in Ne­braska (9-5, 1-1), along with two 10-4 teams in Penn State (1-1 Big Ten) and Rut­gers (0-2). The Scar­let Knights up­set then-No. 15 Se­ton Hall. The Corn­huskers have an up­set over then-No. 14 Min­nesota and lost just 73-72 to Kansas in mid-De­cem­ber. GAMES TO WATCH: Pur­due at Michi­gan State, Feb. 10. The only game be­tween the top two teams in the league could help de­ter­mine seed­ing the con­fer­ence tour­na­ment and a boost to the win­ner’s NCAA Tour­na­ment re­sume ... Michi­gan State at North­west­ern, Feb. 17 and Min­nesota at Pur­due, Feb. 25. Chances for two other po­ten­tial up­per-di­vi­sion teams to claim late-sea­son re­sume-build­ing wins.

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