The No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers could not extend their winning streak to seven games on Saturday, falling in a once-close matchup with the No. 7 Michigan Wolverines in a 61-52 loss at the Crisler Center.
The game turned out pretty much how I expected it to, a defensive slugfest that yielded a lower-scoring game that went the way of the home team. Redshirt senior forward Ethan Happ led the way with 18 points and 11 rebounds, but was in foul trouble early in the second half and sat for a significant portion of it.
However, Wisconsin still stayed closed and had opportunities to tie the game or squeeze the deficit even closer.
A bit of a forewarning on these takeaways: they will likely seem optimistic.
Michigan is a top team for a reason and Wisconsin still played tough
There are absolutely no moral victories here whatsoever.
However, the Badgers were within one or two possessions for most of the second half—even with nine-plus minutes of Ethan Happ-less ball due to the big man getting his third foul at the 18:26 mark. Greg Gard’s squad only committed seven turnovers—five from Happ—so for the most part, it protected the ball in a tough environment in Ann Arbor.
Michigan came into the game as the No. 1 team in the nation per KenPom in defensive adjusted efficiency, and for all the things Wisconsin did wrong, you have to give Jon Beilein’s team credit where credit is due. The Wolverines held the Badgers to 40.7 percent shooting (just 37.9 percent in the second half). UW is the best three-pointing team in the nation and only hit a third of its attempts.
Maybe for a mini-takeaway here, when Wisconsin found some open looks, they did not connect.
As I stated after the Minnesota game, the defense Wisconsin is playing is at a championship-caliber level. If not for a Charles Matthews outburst in scoring 16 of 18 points in the second half and if UW got more buckets to fall on some close “bunnies,” perhaps the Badgers bring home a huge win. Matthews hit nine of 15 attempts from the field, while the rest of the team made just 16 of 41 (39 percent). Without Jon Teske’s 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting, the rest of the Wolverines made just 10 of 31 attempts.
This was a winnable game despite this being in Ann Arbor. Now it’s the offense’s turn to start churning a little bit more.
The turning point: Happ sitting
He left the game with 18:26 remaining after his early third foul and did not return until the 9:13 mark. He scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the first 20 minutes of the game, again being a menace to Jon Teske and Michigan’s defense.
Unlike against Maryland and Illinois, Wisconsin did not respond with a huge run, though it kept the game close and gave itself a chance to stay in the contest until he returned. Sophomore forward Nate Reuvers scored four points in the nine-plus minutes Happ was on the bench—and scored nine points and grabbed six rebounds with three blocks for the game—but Michigan took the lead after the Brad Davison Flagrant 1 hook-and-hold and would not give up the lead again.
Happ returned with just over nine minutes remaining but finished the half just 2-of-9 shooting from the field. If he makes some of those missed shots, it is a different game.
Need to get to the line
Wisconsin obviously is not the best free-throw shooting team, but only having two attempts—and missing both—does not bode well for your team in a road contest. Pretty simple.
Wisconsin has a good chance to win out the rest of the conference season
KenPom’s now predicting the Badgers winning the rest of the regular-season games, but even before that, the six-game winning streak showed a team with that revived, stingy defense and an ability to pull out wins in tough environments.
No. 9 Michigan State will provide quite the challenge on Tuesday night with Nick Ward and Cassius Winston, among others, but Wisconsin has set itself up to be in the top tier of the Big Ten.