Saturday evening in Ann Arbor, Michigan will host Wisconsin without its do-everything guard Caris LeVert.
LeVert, who led Michigan (12-7, 5-2) in every major statistical category, will miss the rest of the season after reinjuring his left foot last Saturday against Northwestern. Michigan was able to overcome the injury and pull out a 54-50 victory at Rutgers earlier this week, but the Wolverines' lack of offensive firepower was on full display. Michigan shot under 35 percent from the field, including 8-of-26 from behind the arc, as it attempted to replace not only by far the team's best scorer, but also its best distributor.
The answer inefficiently came from the perimeter in the form of sophomores Derrick Walton Jr., and Zak Irvin, as well as freshman Aubrey Dawkins, who was freshly inserted into the starting lineup. Aubrey, son of Duke legend Johnny Dawkins, made a name for himself earlier this year when he propelled Michigan back from a double-digit second-half deficit against Illinois. His 20-point effort was highlighted by the five of five three-point attempts he made after the break in the overtime win. Dawkins had 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting in his first start in New Jersey.
Big Ten Hoops
Big Ten Hoops
Walton paced the team against Rutgers with 12 points and three assists, but turned the ball over just as many times and shot just 2-of-7 from deep. After a promising freshman season, Walton has struggled to put the ball in the hole with more attention on him as a sophomore. The same could be said for Irvin, who flourished as a situational scorer as a freshman only to see a sharp and expected drop in efficiency as a sophomore.
Against Wisconsin (17-2, 5-1), Irvin and Walton will also be thrust into a situation they struggled in last year. Both players shot 1-of-9 in Michigan's two meetings against the Badgers a season ago. That said, Irvin and Dawkins are both long and good shooters, a combination that has given Wisconsin trouble. Without any presence in the paint, though, those two might need a Nik Stauskas and LeVert-like performance to pull off the upset in Ann Arbor this year.
Wisconsin also had to deal with a player going down with a foot injury in recent weeks after Traevon Jackson was sidelined. The Badgers responded with a pair of dominant home efforts against Iowa and Nebraska, with both wins coming by at least 25 points. Bronson Koenig has replaced Jackson admirably, turning the ball over just once in the two games and contributing to the team's balanced scoring effort with 11 points against Nebraska and 13 against Iowa.
Koenig will need to provide the same against a Michigan team that will likely have to pack the paint to slow down Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky and bash brother Nigel Hayes. Specifically, the Badgers should expect to see a lot of zone, which Michigan coach John Beilein loves to incorporate and will probably lean on more than usual against Wisconsin.
Sam Dekker, who continued his stellar play over the last month-and-a-half with arguably his best game of the season against Iowa, will have the opportunity to attack the glass and take advantage of smaller defenders. He and the sharpshooting Josh Gasser should also be set up with good looks from the outside. If Wisconsin's perimeter players hit their shots, this should be another seamless victory for the Badgers. If they can't, Wisconsin fans could be pained with a repeat of the Rutgers fiasco.
The game will be shown on ESPN at 6 p.m. CT on Saturday in the Crisler Center, which is also hosting ESPN's College GameDay.