Hey, Brutally Efficient Tim Hardaway Jr., could you stop by the United Center tomorrow around 1:30 local time? - USA TODAY Sports
Michigan dispatched Penn State yesterday and now gets a crack at the Badgers.
Since last we met
Wisconsin's overtime luck immediately ran out, as the Badgers suffered an OT loss to Minnesota a few days after the Michigan win. However, the Badgers were still in good shape for a conference title run -- having only four losses and no return games with IU or UM -- as long as they won out. Things went according to plan as UW took OSU to the woodshed and followed that up with a couple nice wins over the two NU teams. Then the problems began. First, Wisconsin was pushed around by Purdue, then it was completely dominated by Michigan State. Two double digit losses almost led into a three game losing streak as Wisconsin barely edged past Penn State in the regular season finale. Still, 12-6 was enough to sneak past UM for the last bye of the Big Ten Tournament.
Wisconsin is led by a trio of upperclassmen. Ben Brust is the only player averaging over 30 minutes a game, and he is one of two players averaging 11 points per game. His shot has been a big reason for this, as he hits 39 percent from outside and leads the team with 71 triples. Inside there is Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans. Both average over 10 points a game and seven rebounds a game. Berggren is an efficient shooter (eFG% of 51) and a solid offensive rebounder and shot blocker. Evans takes the largest share of the team's shots and, let's be honest, wastes them. He shoots 41 percent from the line and from inside the arc, and he has made just two of his 23 shots from outside. However, he is nearly in the top 100 for DR%, and he carries a low turnover rate. Still, man. Practice your free throws.
The rest of the supporting cast is Traevon Jackson, the other starting guard and nominally the point guard. His inside the arc shooting leaves a bit to be desired (41 percent), and he is nothing more than a compotent threat from deep (30 percent), but he hits three-quarters of his free throws. His biggest downfall is a turnover rate (25.9) that is greater than his assist rate (20.3). Not a good trait in a PG. Mike Bruesewitz also starts, and he is just like every Wisconsin forward you've hated for years: maddeningly effective, if somewhat in a secondary role. Freshman Sam Dekker is the sixth man, and he is the fourth leading scorer (9.7 ppg) as well as the team's best shooter (59.1 eFG%).
Michigan's keys to win
This is going to be the second game in a row where I distill this down to one key: beat Wisconsin at its own game. You know what the Badgers are going to do. They are going to slow the game down, bleed clock (the only conference team with a slower tempo is Northwestern, and its a wonder the Wildcats don't just walk off the court with the ball and go home at this point), play harassing defense (number one in the conference in eFG% allowed), rebound all Michigan's misses (the Badgers lead the conference in OR% allowed), and make you hate every minute of the game. On the other end, Wisconsin will shoot a lot of threes (41% of UW's FGs come from deep), hold the ball (third in TO% at 16.2), and grind out somewhere between 48-60 points.
You don't beat Wisconsin by getting the Badgers out of rhythm. You beat Wisconsin by taking care of the ball, being efficient with your offense, and making their offense beat you. If Michigan can find a way to consistently score, it will up the pressure on one of the league's least efficient offenses. However, the reason Wisconsin gets away with being so meh on offense is that the overall philosophy is so well executed. Wisconsin plays Ryan-ball, and you'll play Ryan-ball too, god dammit.
This one is going to come down to Michigan's offense making the best use of its shots because A) Bo Ryan feasts on wasted possessions and B) Wisconsin won't give up second chance points. If Michigan goes into a funk and starts taking a lot of contested 18-foot jumpshots (I'm looking at you, Tim), this game could get ugly. If Michigan's offense moves the ball, attacks Wisconsin's defense, and finds a way to get points in the paint, it could be too much for the Badger offense to handle.
Kenpom doesn't have a line up yet, but if I had to guess, I would say it favors Michigan by a hair. These teams are 10th and 11th in his overall rankings, so the differences aren't huge.
Stylistically, however, the differences couldn't be more apparent. Michigan is a finesse offensive team that likes to feed off the skills of Trey Burke to open up shots for shooters on the outside and bigs when help defense comes. The Wolverines can score in bunches.
Wisconsin hates basketball. So much so that you'd think an out of control basketball once killed Bo Ryan's father or something, and he has been out for vengeance ever since. While it isn't pretty, the system is a system, and it is brutally effective. Slow the game, value possessions, and eat up rebounds. Lower the sample size (i.e. number of possessions) and you give yourself a better chance to win against teams not used to that pace.
I think Michigan wins this one. It should have won the first meeting (to hell with that buzzer beater), and Michigan's offense in a neutral arena should click better (and hopefully pick up a couple more fouls, although that's another part of Ryan-ball that is inexplicable but infuriating).
That being said, if this one goes over 60 points, it'll be because of overtime. Again.
Let's hope it doesn't get to that. Go blue. Let's keep the revenge tour rolling. I've got eyes for Indiana.