Michigan (17-0, 6-0 Big Ten), ranked No. 2 in this week’s AP Top 25 poll, comes into Madison pretty well rested with its last win coming on Sunday at home against Northwestern.
The Wolverines are 3-0 in away games, but two of the three victories have been within 10 points or less. After losing four of five and falling short in Maryland on Monday, can Greg Gard's squad rise up like they did in the second half against the Terps—all to turn the tide of a rough stretch and upset one of the best teams in the nation?
Here are some key stats, KenPom.com insight and who to watch from the Big Ten power.
Michigan team stats
- Points per game: 73.6
- Opponents’ points per game: 56.6 (first in Big Ten, third in the nation)
- Field goal percentage: 47.1
- Opponent field goal percentage: 39.7
- Three-point percentage: 36.7
- Opponent three-point percentage: 30.2
- Free throw percentage: 67.4 (10th in Big Ten)
- Turnovers per game: 9.5
- Opponents turnovers per game: 13.3
- NCAA NET ranking: 2
Key KenPom.com stats
- Team rank: 6
- Adjusted offensive efficiency: 114.6 (21st in nation)
- Adjusted defensive efficiency: 87.3 (third in nation)
- Defensive effective field goal percentage: 44.1 (10th in nation)
- Offensive turnover percentage: 14.3 (seventh in nation)
- Defensive offensive rebound percentage: 23.1 (12th in nation)
- Defensive free throws attempted/Field goals attempted: 21.3 (third in nation)
- Offensive steal percentage: 5.0 (first in nation)
- Best win: 84-67 win vs. North Carolina (10th in KenPom)
- Worst loss: Uh, none
Key Michigan playmakers (all have started all 17 games)
- Freshman forward Ignas Brazdeikis: 15.6 points per game; 5.4 rebounds per game; 48.7 field goal percentage; 77.1 free throw percentage
- Senior guard Charles Matthews: 14.1 points per game; 5.1 rebounds per game;
- Sophomore guard Jordan Poole: 13.4 points per game; 50.0 percent field goal percentage, 44.8 percent from three-point range
- Junior guard Zavier Simpson: 8.6 points per game; 4.6 rebounds per game; 5.9 assists per game (second in Big Ten and leads conference in assist-to-turnover ratio)
- Junior center Jon Teske: 8.4 points per game; 6.6 rebounds per game; 2.2 blocks per game (tied for Big Ten lead); 50.9 percent field goal percentage
Michigan is looking pretty swell at No. 2 in the country and boasting a 17-0 record heading into the Kohl Center. What has been the most impressive aspect of their undefeated season so far?
It’s been impressive how well Michigan shows up for big games (this Saturday would certainly qualify as one). They dispatched defending national champion Villanova by 27 on the road, North Carolina by 17 and jumped on Indiana, leading by nearly 20 in the first half.
Additionally, a lot has been said about the defense, which ranks No. 3 nationally per Ken Pomeroy. They don’t foul much, rotate incredibly well, run shooters off the three-point line and use their length to force a lot of bad shots. The defensive renaissance in Ann Arbor under assistant Luke Yaklich, combined with John Beilein’s effectiveness on offense, have fans dreaming big.
We always ask--who’s guarding Ethan Happ and how effective can he/they be? Is it Jon Teske?
Jon Teske will be the first one up. The junior has the frame at 7’1, 260 pounds to bang inside with Happ, but even more impressively, he runs the court incredibly well. He finishes off an alley-oop or transition bucket nearly every game. He also averages two blocks a game, good for No. 34 in the country.
Teske is an elite defender, but occasionally finds himself in foul trouble. Happ is one of the best in the conference at drawing fouls, so this is something to watch. If Michigan is forced to go to backups in Austin Davis or true freshman Brandon Johns, Happ should feast. The other option is to go small ball with Isaiah Livers at the five. He shoots over 40 percent on threes, so he could stretch out Happ on defense.
Looking at the match-up between the two programs, which Wolverines will cause the most problems for Wisconsin on Saturday?
Depending on the night, someone different is the main scorer. Against Northwestern last weekend, Zavier Simpson erupted for 24 points, uncharacteristically draining 5-of-10 treys. Teske was the main guy with a double-double against Illinois. Even Johns turned the tide in the second half versus the Hoosiers.
The likeliest problems for Wisconsin would come from Jordan Poole, Charles Matthews and/or Ignas Brazdeikis. Poole leads the team in scoring during conference play (14.7 points per game), and has a lethal jab step to create room behind the line (45 percent for the season from three-point range). Matthews is able to manufacture points in dog fights, grabbing offensive boards and turning defense into offense.
Brazdeikis, a former five-star out of Canada, is a bit of a hybrid between the two. He’s able to contort his body in the lane and finish after contact, but he also hits threes at a 39 percent clip. He may remind Badger fans of Sam Dekker.
You look at KenPom, and well, the four factors and miscellaneous components all show why this team is among the best in the nation. Maybe free throw percentage would be the one area where the Wolverines have not be optimal. What factors, if any, could derail Michigan against Wisconsin on Saturday?
Free throws are definitely a concern, as the Wolverines hit just 67 percent of them (No. 260 nationally). Fortunately for them, Wisconsin is even worse, hitting one percent lower and not getting to the line much in the first place.
Michigan sometimes go cold from the floor. At Illinois, the Wolverines shot just 5-of-19 to keep the game close. Despite the big early lead, a 4-of-16 effort against Indiana kept the Hoosiers within striking distance. The same happened at Northwestern in early December.
Basically, hope the shooters are off.
Michigan has won all three road contests, but two of the three were by 10 points or less (including a two-point W at Northwestern). Has there been anything that stood out in the road wins compared to the other victories?
I basically answered this in the last question. I’ll add one thing, though. Michigan has a tendency to play to its competition.
The Northwestern game was the biggest game at the time for the Wildcats in their new arena. Michigan simply wasn’t going to match the energy. Against Illinois, they did just enough to get by. You can cite home outings against Western Michigan and Binghamton for other examples of this.
On the road at Villanova, though, the Wolverines brought the thunder from start to finish. I think the conclusion to draw is that John Beilein and company known when to turn it up a notch against better competition, but conserve energy against lesser foes.
What’s your prediction for Saturday’s big contest?
Since 2014, Michigan has twice left Kohl Center with a win. I wouldn’t expect this team to be intimidated.
With that said, though, this is probably the biggest game of the year for the Badgers. They’ll throw their best punch, and with players like Happ and Brad Davison, Greg Gard has the guns to get it done, plus ... he kind of has to with the team losing four of five.
I’ll chicken out and just rely on Ken Pomeroy, who picked Michigan to win 63-62 in a virtual tossup.