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Q&A: Michigan writer talks Hunter Dickinson, previews Badgers rematch, and picks a winner

Read here for insight behind enemy lines. Who will be the victor between Michigan and Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin Badgers face the Michigan Wolverines in a rematch of their Valentine’s Day bout on Sunday, where the former topped the latter in a 64-59 game that saw an intense battle between outspoken center Hunter Dickinson and the Badgers, specifically their fans.

Now, the two teams meet in Ann Arbor in the second of two matchups this season, with both teams trying to improve their resume as March Madness nears.

To get further insight into how the Wolverines might play on Tuesday, we caught up with On3’s Michigan writer Clayton Sayfie, who gave his thoughts on the matchup, including a score prediction.

Q. How does Michigan get Hunter Dickinson going against the Badgers? What needs to change?

Michigan junior center Hunter Dickinson played well in the first half at Wisconsin, scoring 9 points, but struggled on his limited usage (just 3 shot attempts) in the second. Just about everyone else save for sophomore guard Kobe Bufkin had an off night offensively, too, which obviously didn’t help.

Michigan can get him more involved in this meeting, for one, and if it gets the kind of defensive performance it did from Dickinson in the first meeting (Steven Crowl went only 5-for-15 from the field), he and the Wolverines should be just fine.

Q. Jett Howard has been out with an injury recently. In his absence, Dug McDaniel has stepped up. How important will he be, likely going up in a tough matchup against Max Klesmit if Howard doesn’t play?

Freshman point guard Dug McDaniel will be extremely important. Michigan is 7-2 when McDaniel scores in double figures. He shoots some tough shots but is connecting on 47.1 percent of his mid-range jumpers, third in the Big Ten among those with 20-plus attempts, and when he’s on, so is the Wolverines’ offense.

I thought McDaniel was OK in the first meeting, for the most part, but his late mistakes were killer.

Bufkin is another straw that stirs the drink. He’s an elite finisher at the the bucket — making 72 percent of his shots at the rim, second among Big Ten guards behind Nebraska’s Keisei Tominaga, per Synergy — is Michigan’s best defender and has made 10 of his last 17 shots from deep.

The Wolverines’ backcourt needs to lock down Chucky Hepburn again and be better against the Badgers’ off-ball actions.

Q. Michigan rounds out the year facing Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. Is it a must-win on Sunday for the Wolverines?

This is a must-win, plain and simple. Keep in mind, I’m extremely reluctant to label games as such, but the Wolverines would have a slim-to-none chance of making the Big Dance if they drop this one on senior day.

Michigan needs three more wins to feel good about its tournament chances. Road games at Illinois and Indiana are looming to round out the regular-season slate, so taking care of business here is a necessity. They would still have a lot of work to do, but wouldn’t have to win the Big Ten Tournament to earn an NCAA bid with a victory Sunday.

Q. What is a key to win for the Wolverines?

Michigan needs to play defense the way it did in the second half at Wisconsin, and be much better on Connor Essegian, who killed the Maize and Blue with 2 made triples and some layups off of cuts.

The Wolverines also have to limit mistakes. Wisconsin has a good defense, but Michigan can’t turn it over 12 times like it did at the Kohl Center. A better whistle would help there, too, since two travel calls and a couple charges were more than questionable. They have to keep Wisconsin, a poor offensive rebounding team, from getting second-chance opportunities and make free throws, two things they didn’t do in Madison.

Q. What is your score prediction for the game?

Michigan should be a bit healthier Sunday. Junior forward Terrance Williams II made his return against Rutgers, coming off the bench, and I’d bet he gets the start. He’ll help the defense and rebounding. If freshman guard Jett Howard can come back, he’ll give the offense a boost.

The Wolverines have played well the last two contests and found something with its late-game execution, blowing past both Michigan State and Rutgers, and should be able to keep that going at home.

Prediction: Michigan 70, Wisconsin 62