While it was inevitable Wisconsin would drop a game at some point this season, I think it's a consensus among most Badgers fans that Tuesday's loss to Indiana was one that simply got away.
Once the Badgers took that 10-point lead with about 13 minutes left in the game, you could clearly see the boys in cardinal and white take their feet off the proverbial gas pedal for just a split second, and that ultimately cost them the game.
I'll admit I was even ready to stamp a win in the books early in the game after watching Wisconsin get whatever it wanted on the offensive end. The ease with which the Badgers operated on offense actually continued the majority of the game, but their defense against the Hoosiers was the most suspect it has been all season. I think that is what left me most surprised with the loss.
Did I waffle in my prediction Tuesday? Yes, but I considered picking IU simply for the fact it was a collision of too many factors working against Wisconsin; an undefeated record, 12 straight wins against the Hoosiers, not having played a game in six days, etc.. Eventually something had to come up and nip the Badgers. I just didn't think it would be themselves.
No doubt about it, Wisconsin is a better basketball team than Indiana -- a substantially better team, I would say. In fact, when the two teams meet at the end of February, I'll venture to say the Badgers win fairly easily, probably by 10-plus.
But hey, the loss is behind us and you know Bo Ryan will have the boys ready to defend the Kohl Center Saturday evening against a Michigan team that is playing its best basketball of the season.
The Wolverines seemed to be in dire straits earlier this year when they learned big man Mitch McGary would miss the rest of the season with back issues. But now, they've won six straight and having things rolling in the right direction. John Beilein's club hasn't exactly beaten any top-flight competition during its winning streak, but Michigan did beat an up-and-coming Minnesota team in The Barn, and that is slowly turning into a marquee win.
Will the Wolverines make it seven straight wins, or will the Badgers come out playing with an edge to bounce back from their first slip-up of the season?
We'll find out in just a few hours, but in the meantime, here are three keys to ensuring UW does in fact get back to its winning ways.
Get back to Bo Ryan's rugged defensive principles
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The ease with which IU point guard Yogi Ferrell got to the rim Tuesday was appalling, and I know Bo will be expecting a much stouter defensive performance this evening against Michigan.
Off dribble penetration, Ferrell and the Hoosiers' other guards created way too many non-contest shots for themselves and for guys like Noah Vonleh on the perimeter, and that cannot happen again against a gifted offensive team like Michigan.
While the Wolverines don't have a true guard like Ferrell that can dominate a game offensively, Michigan has more guys that can beat you than Indiana. If it's not Nik Stauskas, it's Glenn Robinson III or Caris LeVert. Even Jordan Morgan has been a threat at times in the post over the past few games with McGary out.
Quite simply, the Badgers' defense just has to be better Saturday afternoon, or else Ben Brust might have to rain in a 45-foot heave to bail out Wisconsin for a second consecutive season against the Wolverines.
Let Traevon Jackson attack in isolation
Jackson is the one player in Wisconsin's starting five that has a decided advantage over his opponent in the maize and blue. He's coming off the most outstanding offensive performance of his career after pouring in 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting against Indiana, nd neither of Michigan's point guards can handle his strength.
In Wisconsin's four Big Ten games, Jackson is averaging 13.8 points, second on the team behind Brust (15 per game) and I like the assertiveness he's playing with right now.
Whether he's taking it to the rim or pulling the trigger from deep, I think Wisconsin is a better team when Jackson looks to score, and he should certainly do that vs. Michigan. Neither Spike Albrecht nor Derrick Walton Jr., can guard Jackson in one-on-one situations, and a big game from the Badgers' stocky point guard equates to a bounce-back win.
Control the glass
Rebounding was a source of concern coming into the year, but the Badgers' great start did a lot to curb those worries. Unfortunately, Wisconsin has been soundly defeated on the glass in two of its last three games (those being against Indiana and Iowa), and both could've resulted in losses rather than just one.
Michigan and Wisconsin are pretty much dead-even in the Big Ten in rebounding margin, with the Badgers seventh (+2.9) and the Wolverines eighth (+2.7), but Michigan is as athletic on its wings as any team in the country with guys like Robinson and LeVert crashing the glass. The length of those two guys is a definite concern.
If Wisconsin can't limit Michigan's second-chance opportunities, then the Wolverines will walk into the Kohl Center and win. Second0chance looks for Michigan equal wide-open, kick-out threes for the deadeye shooter Stauskas, who is shooting better than 45 percent from distance this season. Once he gets hot, look out.
Prediction: While Michigan is the "hot" team in the conference right now having not yet lost a game in Big Ten play, I just think the Badgers play with a nastiness about themselves. Losing a second straight game isn't an option for this team -- at least that's the mentality I sense. Badgers will get it done. Wisconsin 79, Michigan 70.