Michigan avenged one embarrassing loss Thursday when it dispatched Penn State, 83-66. The Wolverines are looking to erase another heartbreaking loss with another win Friday.
The story for Wisconsin is how it responds to the thrilling, yet concerning victory over Penn State in the regular season finale. If the close call on Sunday resulted in renewed focus, the Badgers are in good shape. Yet, UW could have also gained a false sense of security after Traevon Jackson's buzzer beater.
We've seen it before ... against these very Wolverines. Ben Brust was the player to deliver the Badgers with a prayer of a shot that day, and he backed it up with big shots in overtime. But Wisconsin crumbled the very next game in big spots against Minnesota.
In fact, every time the Badgers got rolling during the Big Ten season, the basketball gods sent some lowly team to humble them. Only 4-0 team in the league? BOOM -- run over by Iowa in Iowa City. The Brust game capped a great three-game stretch before falling to Minnesota. Worst of all, Purdue cruised past Wisconsin, 69-56, at the Kohl Center after UW had demolished its last three opponents by an average of 27 points.
It was after facing the Boilermakers that the media gushed about how chippy Wisconsin's practice was prior to facing Michigan State. But that intensity didn't help much as the Badgers (21-10, 12-6 Big Ten) seemed to miss every shot they took in an ugly loss to the Spartans.
Wisconsin did not have the luxury of a tournament tune-up session as Michigan (26-6, 12-6) did and can ill afford to be rusty against such a dynamic offense. The Wolverines boast the second most efficient offense in the land, led by a handful of great outside shooters.
Newly-crowned Big Ten Player of the Year Trey Burke led the team with 21 points on Thursday as Michigan controlled the ball and put up 48 second-half points. The Wolverines even seemed to excise the free throw demons that cost them a piece of the Big Ten title -- Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III all missed crucial free throws in the waning moments against Indiana. Michigan bounced back to hit 19-of-23 from the charity stripe against Penn State.
Forward Jordan Morgan did not play against Wisconsin a month ago due to an ankle injury, but now he's back full speed. Morgan will make a difference. He sets the defensive tone for Michigan and even sneaked onto the Big Ten's All-Defensive unit voted on by coaches (joining UW's Jared Berggren). The junior has been efficient, if underutilized since his return six games ago. Morgan gives the Wolverines a decent three-man rotation in the post and certainly strengthens one of Michigan's weaknesses.
Defense has not been the trouble for the Badgers, though Sam Dekker believes his lack of consistency might have cost him the league's Sixth Man of the Year award. Once again, it's the offense the concern du jour.
For the first time in the tempo-free era, UW scored less than one point-per-possession (.993) in Big Ten play. That is a gigantic drop-off from recent Badger teams, especially those from the Jordan Taylor days. Opposing teams have to be licking their chops.
Part of the problem is Wisconsin has hit just 17 of its last 71 three-point attempts (23.6 percent).
One way Bo Ryan has tried to combat prolonged offensive stretches is by slowly getting Dekker ready for heavy minutes. Dekker played a conference season-high 34 minutes Sunday, scoring 14 points and generally looking like the most aggressive offensive player on the court. In that sense, Dekker is almost the anti-Badger compared to his teammates.
Even with a defense ranked fourth in the country in efficiency, Wisconsin will have it's hands full with a Michigan team that might be rounding into shape at the right time, the recent loss to the Hoosiers not withstanding.
At least Dekker will get to practice his defense.
Projected Starting Lineups
|Jared Berggren, Sr.||C||Jordan Morgan, Jr.|
|Mike Bruesewitz, Sr.||F||Glenn Robinson III, Fr.|
|Ryan Evans, Sr.||F / G||Nik Stauskas, Fr.|
|Ben Brust, Jr.||G||Tim Hardaway Jr., Jr.|
|Traevon Jackson, So.||G||Trey Burke, So.|
KenPom win probability: 49% (63-62 L) 60 possessions
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