No. 3 Michigan-Wisconsin Preview: The Wheels of the Cheese Keep On Turning

This picture is tremendous. - USA TODAY Sports

The Wolverines travel to Madison tomorrow (12 ET, ESPN) with an opportunity to once again return to college basketball's top spot. Madison has not been kind to Michigan over the years, but Michigan needs to pick up at least one win between this one and Tuesday's matchup in East Lansing.

Exposition

Yes, this preview is basically just an excuse for me to post this:

That is pretty much how tomorrow is going to go.

Now that that's out of the way, let's talk "basketball." An analogy--ordinary basketball: this "basketball"::modern English: Old English. That is, you see the vague similarities and can easily discern that they are of the same family, but, at some point, they have diverged, one estranged from the other.

With that said, the pace won't be so much of an issue, as Michigan plays "slow," which is a serious punch to the face of cognitive dissonance when you watch Trey Burke get out in the open floor as Michigan goes on their one or two supernova-esque runs per game. The issue will be the completely unironic grit and physicality that Wisconsin will bring to the floor. Mix in a little bit of road game voodoo and you certainly have the recipe for a nailbiter, if not a potential loss.

However, it isn't literally impossible to win at the Kohl Center, as two teams have already done it (Tony Bennett's honorary B1G squad, UVA, and Michigan State). The Badgers are just 3-3 in their last six games, but have recovered quite nicely after an early season thumping in Gainesville (which is by no means a bad loss, even with Florida's recent evisceration at the hands of Mike Anderson's Razorback team).

Wisconsin enters at 16-7 (7-3), tied for second in the conference with the Buckeyes, dispatched by our very own Wolverines on Tuesday. The Badgers might not be at the level of past Bo Ryan squads, but this is still without a doubt a solid tournament team and one you sort of dread having to play. This will be your standard Big Ten hammer fight, and if Michigan isn't ready to play, things could get gruesome. Given the struggles of Michigan's freshmen on the road, I don't think that entering this game with anything grander than cautious optimism is wise.

The Opponent

Wisconsin has its usual array of lumberjacks. Six foot ten inch F/C Jared Berggren leads the way for the Badgers, averaging 11.8 ppg and 6.8 rpg, while also being unafraid to shoot a three or two; however, he's only shooting 29.6% from beyond the arc.

Six foot one inch junior guard Ben Brust pitches in 11.0 ppg and 5.5 rpg, the latter being fairly impressive for a guy his height. Brust has come up big for the Badgers of late, scoring 20 points at Illinois on 7/11 shooting and 18 points Thursday night in a double-OT win against Iowa. Assuming Stauskas and his decidedly unswaggy defense is checking him, Michigan could be in some trouble. Brust shoots a pretty nice 39% from three as well; if Michigan shows the tendency to overrotate and leave guys wide open on the perimeter, as they did against Ohio State, things could get dicey.

Six foot six inch redshirt senior Ryan Evans, the only non-Midwesterner on the roster and the only one to boast the tremendous flat top look, throws 10.8 ppg and a team-high 7.7 rpg into the boiling stew that is Wisconsin basketball. Evans had a rough game against Ohio State in Columbus on Jan. 29 (1/10 from the field, two points), but, like Brust, had nice games against Illinois and Iowa (15 points in each).

Six foot six inch forward Mike Brusewtiz and six foot two inch guard Traevon Jackson round out the starting five, averaging 7.1 and 6.1 ppg respectively. Six foot seven inch forward Sam Dekker comes off the bench, averaging 8.7 ppg and serving as Wisconsin's most effective three-point gunner (42%) in the second-most attempts (76). Again, Michigan's D in general needs work, but they can't afford to reprise their regulation time effort against Ohio State, otherwise a barrage of first half threes could bury them in a way that won't allow them to make the comeback that is possible against other squads (even Indiana).

Otherwise, Frank Kaminsky and George Marshall round out the meaningful contributors. Marshall is an RR slot receiver 2.0-sized guy (5'11''), and hasn't seemingly been much of a regular offensive contributor. He does have the capability, however, having scored a cool 20 points at Iowa in only 15 minutes. He did not record a point in Wisconsin's last two contests. Marshall is a true point guard, but appears to still be coming off the bench despite the fact that neither Jackson nor Brust are 1s.

Here's a basic radar chart...really, these teams are not so dissimilar in a lot of ways:

The Gameplan

  • Don't press. Anecdotally, it seems to me that teams will panic and press when confronted with Wisconsin's slow motion approach. It's easy to understand why. Michigan can run, of course, and at times it even seems like running is a better option for the Wolverines, whether it's through standard grab the rebound and go situations or drive and kicks in the secondary break. A 10-point Wisconsin lead, when adjusted for Wisconsinity, is probably about a 20-point lead for most teams, especially down the stretch.
  • Off the blocks. Stemming from that, Michigan absolutely cannot afford to start slowly, as they did at Indiana and at Ohio State. Wisconsin absolutely will run the shot clock down whenever they can, and that will be a new thing for a freshman-laden Michigan team. Yes, in Beilein we trust, but sometimes playing freshmen, even ones as talented and productive as ours have been, is kind of like rolling the dice. The Badgers are 11th in the B1G in possessions per 40 minutes during conference play. As the great Trick Daddy once said, "first quarter slow motion, second half speed it up." Michigan will likely be stuck in this pace quagmire for the first half. If they enter the second up or down a few points, the early portion of the second frame might need to see an uptick in pace, which means Trey Burke doing work. Not "pressing," mind you, but I think Michigan's track record of knowing when to attack this season is pretty solid.
  • D up/eat your Wheaties. Michigan's defensive struggles are well-known, if slightly exaggerated. That said, Michigan could not buy a stop to save its life against OSU until overtime, when the Buckeyes decided not to give DeShaun Thomas touches (which, yes, is partially a product of Michigan's extra attention on him). Even more concerning was the fact that Michigan's bigs simply got outmuscled by not exactly offensively prolific bigs like LaQuinton Ross and Amir Williams.

Miscellaneous Stats

  • Rebounding. Wisconsin is a middling offensive rebounding team, checking in at 7th in the B1G in offensive rebounding percentage. However, they clean up on the other end, where they're first in defensive rebounding percentage (72.4%) during conference play.
  • Defense. The Badgers, whose offense is basically a form of defense unto itself, also play strong traditional D. They're first in opponent 3-point field goals made, attempted and percentage, in addition to true shooting and effective field goal percentage. Wisconsin has already played OSU, MSU, Minnesota and Illinois: it's safe to say their defense is 100% legitimate. Dealing purely in points allowed per game, Wisconsin is second in the B1G and No. 23 nationally.
  • Turnovers. There won't be many. Michigan boasts a turnover percentage of 14.8%, edged out slightly by Wisconsin's mark of 14.7%. Each possession in this game will, when adjusted for Wisconsinity, be worth its weight in cheesegold. After Michigan's hot start on Tuesday, some frenetic play from Michigan led to some easy buckets going the other way. Michigan can't afford to do that tomorrow.
  • IN COLOR. The last time Michigan won in Madison, Futurama was about a month away from airing its first episode. Now I feel old and also sad about all that losing. Hope Slurms McKenzie is around to pick up the mood of this bullet OH WAIT INTERNET RIGHT (yes, the following is in Spanish, which makes it even better):

Estoy Cansado de FESTEJAR (via millosmuse)


Ending Thoughts, Predictions, Etc.

This is one of those weird game from a stylistic perspective. Wisconsin is a slower (pace-wise), less talented version of Michigan, which is a formula they've perfected in Madison. After the loss at Florida, I thought that this would be the year that the Wisconsin lumberjack machine would come to a grinding halt, but nay, Bo Ryan's sorcery has kept them more than afloat.

With Indiana's mind-boggling loss at Illinois yesterday, Michigan should be feeling pretty good about its B1G title hopes. The Wolverines need to grab a win in one of these next two road contests, and I'm honestly not sure which will be the more difficult one to get.

The following is not really surprising, per se, given the nature of Michigan basketball in the last 15 years or so, but the Wolverines' last win in Madison came on Feb. 27, 1999, a disgusting 51-39 victory capping the regular season of a 12-19 campaign. WOO ELLERBE.

Anyway, this could honestly go either way. With the mitigation of Michigan's talent advantage via Trick Daddy-esque slow motion, I wouldn't be surprised to see Michigan being forced to launch a barrage of 3-pointers late to claw their way back in. It's easy to look at Wisconsin's schedule and say "hey, it took them two overtimes to beat Iowa" or "hey, they only won by six at Nebraska," but this is not how things work. Stop it, with your attempts at rationalizing college basketball happenings with any sort of holistic methodology.

In the end, I think Michigan wins this one, only because I have to make a prediction. Nothing would surprise me, but I'm hoping Michigan's cheese wheel is the swiftest in all of Gloucestershire Madison on Saturday. Michigan 64, Wisconsin 61.

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