I wondered aloud in our quarterfinal game preview how Wisconsin would respond to the way it closed the regular season. Looking at the Badgers' 17 first-half points, you would not be alone thinking that the hangover from the Penn State game carried over to the Michigan contest.
But I would disagree. Once again, shots were not falling, though the Badgers had a lot more spring in their step. They were recharged and focused. Calm on offense and quick to the ball on defense, Wisconsin's defense overcame the vaunted Wolverine offense by getting its hands on a lot of balls (nine steals) and rebounding well until its shooting turned around. And boy, did it ever turn around.
Bo Ryan has been harping all week about how it's unavoidable for the defense to lag when shots don't go in, but Wisconsin did a remarkable job of keeping its focus and energy at high levels. If the Badgers can maintain those levels, they might be capable of a championship run.
Jared Berggren set the defensive tone early with one of the team's five blocks and an additional altered shot on Michigan's very first possession. Ryan Evans used his length to block a couple more.
However, the game turned on offense. Wisconsin (22-10) kept its second-half commitment to pound the ball inside and enjoyed one of Sam Dekker finest performances of the season. Evans showed savvy playmaking ability from the post as he exploited one-on-one matchups with the slender Tim Hardaway Jr. and freshman Glenn Robinson III. The redshirt senior put on an old-school clinic for the rookie, en route to 68-59 win.
The team's reward is a Saturday semifinal game at 12:40 p.m. CT against top-seeded Indiana (27-5), which advanced via a relatively easy 80-64 victory over Illinois. With one conference loss avenged already, the Hoosiers turn their eyes toward ending an 11-games losing streak against the Badgers.
It won't be that easy for Evans to repeat his post performance against Indiana, though. In place of Hardaway and Robinson, IU counters with Christian Watford and Victor Oladipo on the wing. Watford has a size and maybe even an athleticism advantage on Evans. Oladipo, though smaller, is a plus defender who can make plays rather than sit back and take his lumps like the Wolverine defenders seemed content to do.
Dekker and Ben Brust enjoyed some success against Indiana earlier this season, so Indiana has some adjustments to make. Tom Crean will have to prove he can win at Wisconsin's pace for the first time since he's been IU's head coach.
Whether or not Berggren continues to struggle offensively, he has as much potential as anyone to disrupt Cody Zeller. Zeller feasted on the Illini on Thursday to the tune of 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Slowing the sophomore big man is the key to keeping the game at Wisconsin's preferred tempo.
In the backcourt, Traevon Jackson played great defense on Trey Burke in the quarterfinals, so you have to like his chances of handling either Yogi Ferrell or Jordan Hulls, each of whom thrived assisting or scoring in the high-paced win over Illinois.
No matter which way it ends Saturday afternoon, take a moment to revel in fact that Wisconsin has the perfect opponent to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Rob Wilson game!
Projected Starting Lineups
|Jared Berggren, Sr.||F||Cody Zeller, So.|
|Mike Bruesewitz, Sr.||F||Christian Watford, Sr.|
|Ryan Evans, Sr.||F / G||Victor Oladipo, Jr.|
|Ben Brust, Jr.||G||Jordan Hulls, Sr.|
|Traevon Jackson, So.||G||Yogi Ferrell, Fr.|
KenPom win probability: 31% (67-61 L) 64 possessions
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