As Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice buried Michigan last February, Eli Brooks watched from the bench.
A junior at the time, Brooks was held out of the game due to a broken nose. The Badgers won that game, 81-74, and Michigan sorely missed Brooks’ elite on-ball defense as it watched Trice post a career-best 28 points on 5-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
This season, the stakes are even higher for the 9th-ranked Badgers’ trip to Ann Arbor. No. 7 Michigan will play host for the top-10 matchup against a Wisconsin team that hasn’t changed much since last year. The Badgers’ starting lineup features five seniors — three of whom are fifth-year seniors.
After winning a share of the Big Ten regular season championship last season, this year’s veteran roster has Wisconsin squarely in the conversation to repeat.
“There’s no hesitation, there’s no glitches. They’ve been playing basketball for a very long time, they’re well experienced, and they’re vets,” senior forward Isaiah Livers said Monday during a Zoom call with reporters. “When you go against vets, you kind of look at them like, they’re gonna cut, they’re gonna grab offensive rebounds, they’re gonna do all the little things right. That’s the dangerous thing about all those seniors being one team, they’re all gonna do the little things right. They’re not gonna hit a home run. Very disciplined.”
For the Wolverines’ defense, getting Brooks back for this season’s matchup could be the difference-maker. While each team has relied on dominant big men at times, the Badgers’ 41.4% clip on 3-pointers ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is averaging nearly nine 3-pointers per game this season, led by Trice’s team-best 24.
Much of Michigan’s defensive gameplan on Tuesday could hinge on running Wisconsin off the 3-point line — something it didn’t do when the Badgers canned 11 threes in last season’s meeting.
“We can’t have any glitches,” Livers said. “We can’t close out to their shooters short. We have to close out all the way to their chest. Hand-ball contest, and make them put the ball on the ground. Shooters don’t like to put the ball on the ground. … Just run them off the line. It’s all effort, everybody has to be on the same page, everybody has to be talking.”
It’s responsible to expect that Brooks will draw the assignment of guarding Trice tomorrow, though Michigan coach Juwan Howard said he won’t be the only one. Brooks lost a tooth during a collision in the Wolverines’ last game and underwent a concussion test, but he’s available to play tomorrow.
“Trice is tough, man,” Howard said. “… He’s one of the elite guards in the country. He also has a lot of experience. A lot of sets run through him. He does a very good job of shooting off ball screens. He can create his own shot. He’s a tough guard for anyone.”
On Tuesday, Brooks will get the long-awaited matchup against Trice that never materialized last season. And in the Wolverines’ biggest test of the season to date, it could determine the outcome.