Whether you are a Badger fan at work, a Badger fan in a pointless Friday lecture or even a Badger fan (not surprisingly) already imbibing at the great Will's Northwoods Inn in Chicago, that one o'clock hour is really all you care about today.
And it should be.
Wisconsin has a major test in the 4-5 seed match-up at the United Center in its first game of the Big Ten Tournament. Michigan was literally half a ball rotation away from topping Indiana last Sunday and sharing the conference crown. The Wolverines would love another shot at the Hoosiers in the semifinals tomorrow -- yes, we're going to assume Oladipo and Zeller take care of Illinois.
Given that a rematch with IU may be hanging out there, will the Badgers catch a Michigan team looking ahead or one that is driven through and through by the opportunity to grab a No. 1 seed for the Big Dance? This is a purely speculative 50-50 prospect, I know, but still -- I think you'll see which Wolverines squad shows up within the first 10 minutes of the opening half.
In any case, here are three keys for the Badgers to beat the talented Maize and Blue:
No. 1: Shut down Nik Stauskas
Why not eliminate Trey Burke? Well, to put it simply, the Big Ten Player of the Year is just too good. You can book him for 20 points each night because he's in a rhythm that no team can do anything to effectively stop. Stauskas, on the other hand, has struggled mightily in the Wolverines' losses this season. He's averaging 8.2 points per game in Michigan losses versus 12.5 in Michigan victories. Known for his dead-eye from three-point range, the Canadian shot markedly worse from distance in those losses -- 32 percent (8-of-25) versus 48.8 percent (61-of-125) in wins. If the Badgers can move Stauskas off the three-point line this afternoon, their chances of winning drastically improve
No. 2: Keep Michigan under the magic number 65
This game is the epitome of a clash of styles. Michigan has the second-best scoring offense in the Big Ten at 75.4 points per game (which happens to rank 23rd nationally), whereas the Badgers boast the best scoring defense in the conference (and ninth-best nationally), at just 56 points per game. So why is 65 the key number? Well, the Wolverines averaged only 64.83 points in their six losses this season, one of those coming in the Kohl Center. Wisconsin will need its style of play to win out again today in order to advance to Saturday.
No. 3: Dominate the glass
There isn't much discrepancy between these teams in rebounding margin, as both squads rank in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten (Wisconsin is sixth at +4.3 and Michigan is eighth at +3). However, Wisconsin has two guys in Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans averaging over seven rebounds per game, whereas Michigan only has two players averaging even five rebounds a night: Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary. The Badgers can ill afford to give the Wolverines any additional opportunities to score, because they will take advantage. The rebounding margin will be especially important if the Badgers shoot the ball poorly from the field, which we all know has happened many times this season.
I could see this game going either way, but to be honest, I picked Michigan to win for our B5Q Pick ‘Em the other day. No matter what happens, let the Badgers' March Madness begin!