A February meeting between Michigan and Wisconsin with huge NCAA Tournament stakes?
It’s not quite deja vu all over again, but the Badgers (8-9 Big Ten, 16-11 overall) head to Ann Arbor Sunday afternoon to take on the Wolverines (10-7, 16-12) with both teams desperately clinging to their postseason tournament berths.
On Valentine’s Day, the Badgers prevailed over the Wolverines 64-59 despite not making a field goal in the last 10 minutes. Freshman phenom Connor Essegian had 23 points to lead all players while junior Steven Crowl had a double-double to come out on top of his battle with Michigan’s big man Hunter Dickenson.
This time, it’s Dickenson and the Wolverines who will have home cooking with the scene set at the Crisler Center. Since their battle with Wisconsin, Michigan at home against their in-state rivals Michigan State and on the road against Rutgers.
The Badgers’ frontcourt matchup against Dickenson was a huge focus — just as Dickenson was the focus of boos from the student section after he called the Badgers “scumbags” in a previous podcast appearance — in the last game. Despite some foul trouble from Crowl which led to Dickenson being guarded by a smaller Carter Gilmore, both players were able to handle the assignment well.
After shutting down Iowa 64-52 in its last time out — the Hawkeyes hit just 3-for-28 from behind the three-point line — Wisconsin will hope its defense travels to Ann Arbor. UW has held its last three opponents under 60 points and if it can do that again against the Wolverines, the Badgers will be in a solid position to win consecutive games for the first time since January.
But the question this year for the Badgers is can it keep that consistency? Connor Essegian had a huge performance against Iowa, but it was a bounce back performance after the freshman went 0-for-10 in UW’s loss to Rutgers. Against Rutgers, guards Kamari McGee and Jordan Davis added 21 points combined off the bench. Against Iowa, it was only four, albeit over fewer minutes.
The biggest reflection of the lack of consistency is star man Tyler Wahl. The senior from Minnesota has found it difficult to string together great performances. Last game Wahl dominated with a double-double which hopefully can reflect that he is turning a corner after his absence due to injury in January.
But each time it has looked like the team has turned a corner, suddenly it takes a step back again. That’s pretty much been the story of why UW has been a bubble team.
The pieces are there. It just is a question of which version of the Badgers shows up Sunday. They’ll take on the Wolverines in a crucial game at 1 p.m. on CBS.