The last month has shown exactly what the Michigan Wolverines can be. The start of the season was electric, and no one should forget how the maize and blue impressed in Atlantis, but recent weeks have put on display who this team truly is. No team has been better during February, and this has happened with Isaiah Livers missing time. If the refs were awake against Ohio State, the Wolverines would be on an eight-game win streak right now.
Accordingly, Kenpom has Michigan sliding into the top 10 ahead of a matchup with Wisconsin. The two squads have yet to meet this year, and the Badgers are almost as hot as the Wolverines, winning five of their last six, including victories over the Spartans and Buckeyes. As fans have seen all season, no game is a given in the Big Ten, but it is unlikely that anyone wants to face Michigan right now.
Some brackets have pushed the Wolverines up to a 5 seed, and this can continue to climb as the team keeps winning. The middle of the conference standings will be a mess until the very end, so all Michigan can do is take care of business and hope the rest shakes out. Wisconsin is not an easy out, but at home this is another winnable game that will help out the resume.
What to watch
Come to terms with the situation: This has been a flip-floppy area all season, but at some point the team needs to come to terms with its identity. Even though the numbers have been slightly better as of late, Michigan is not a good team from behind the arc. Instead, threes should be seen as a luxury, not an expectation. And that is ok! Franz Wagner, Isaiah Livers, and most of the bigs are excellent in the paint and can attack the rim. The Wolverines still lead conference play in two-point percentage. 6-for-25 against Purdue should be the final sign this team needs to explore other options.
Play through the shot clock: Wisconsin is one of the least fun teams to play in both football and basketball, parading a boring, but effective, style of offense. The Badgers are last in the Big Ten in tempo while rarely turning the ball over (second) and typically finding good looks (fourth in effective field goal rate). Michigan has been the best in the entire country in defensive efficiency during February, with just about everyone stepping up. However, staying disciplined against this team is easier said than done, and the Wolverines must avoid any late-clock breakdowns.
A role to play: Juwan Howard has figured out his plan at center, as seen over the past five games (all wins). Jon Teske has played between 25 and 28 minutes in each of these contests, while Austin Davis sees the floor for 12 to 14 minutes. Davis has been more efficient on offense as of late, but Teske’s defense is clearly a step above, making each valuable in their own way. No fan expected it to play out like this, but the usage of the two true bigs seems to be working. As March quickly approaches, it may be nice to have a pair of above-average options at center.
When a team is hot, a team is hot. The Wolverines will lose at some point (probably?), but until then it is hard to not predict a win. 68-60 Michigan.
Teams: Wisconsin Badgers (17-10, 10-6) at No. 19 Michigan Wolverines (18-9, 9-7)
Date: Thursday, February 27, 2020
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Television/Streaming: ESPN2/Watch ESPN