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Men’s Basketball Game Preview: Wisconsin at Michigan

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The Wolverines and Badgers meet in a top ten showdown.

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 27 Wisconsin at Michigan Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Have you watched a Wisconsin men’s basketball game at any point in the last 15 years? You have? Great. You can skip the rest of this preview.

The basketball Badgers are essentially the football Badgers transposed to the hardwood. Always good, always ruthless, and methodical in their style. They’re as easily identifiable as any program in the country. The players come and go, but the approach remains the same.

Wisconsin comes to Ann Arbor tomorrow 10-2 and 4-1 in Big Ten play, ranked No. 5 in KenPom and No. 9 in the AP Poll. This year’s Badgers are good in all the ways any good Badger team is. They move at a glacier’s pace, are lethal from outside, make you pay for every mistake, and rarely turn the ball over. They’ll be the best team Michigan will have seen this season.

The Wolverines have passed every test thrown their way: some cupcakes, a handful of pesky MAC teams, a few interesting Big Ten teams that figure to be on the bubble in early March. But those were more like pop quizzes. This is Michigan’s midterm.

Wisconsin’s stability and experience is perhaps its No. 1 asset. Seniors D’Mitrik Trice, Brad Davison, Aleem Ford, Micah Potter, and Nate Reuvers have all started all 12 games this season. They’ve been with the program practically forever — Potter, who joined the team after transferring from Ohio State in 2018-19, is the odd man out — and all of them have played significant roles in previous seasons. This isn’t their first rodeo.

Trice, a 6-foot-0 point guard, is having a tremendous final season, leading the team with 14.8 points and 3.7 assists per game. After never having shot higher than 38.4 percent in a season (amazingly, he shot exactly 38.0 percent in three of his four college seasons, including an injury-shortened sophomore year), he’s hitting 45.3 percent on 10.7 attempts per game. He plays the most minutes on the team, takes the most shots, and plays the most important position. If the Badgers need one last shot, the ball’s probably going to be in his hands.

Davison, a 6-foot-4 walking superlative, is basically the same player he’s always been, with his averages of 10.0 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.0 steals in line with his career numbers. Notably, he’s hitting 43.8 percent of his 3-pointers, way up from his 36.2 percent career clip.

The 6-foot-8 Ford (9.8 ppg, 4.1 RPG) gives the Badgers a wing presence and yet another capable shooter, as he’s hitting 35.3 percent from deep. He’s not the most heralded member of the team, but he’s got good size and skill and is one of Wisconsin’s top rebounders.

Last season, Potter was a revelation coming off the bench after being ruled eligible — the Badgers were 16-5 in games he played after a .500 start, and almost certainly wouldn’t have tied for a regular-season conference title without him. The 6-foot-10 forward’s only upped his game this year, averaging 12.5 points and 7.0 rebounds on 52.5 percent shooting (43.3 percent from downtown). He’s also a solid passer for his position (15.8 assist rate, which ranks third on the Badgers).

Nate Reuvers is a lot like Potter but also can compliment him in a variety of ways. While Potter isn’t much of a rim protector, the 6-foot-11 Reuvers (10.3 ppg, 4.3 RPG) is a terrific interior defender, blocking 1.3 shots per game. And like everyone else on this team, Reuvers can knock down the 3-ball (39.1 percent). Potter’s emergence has meant that Reuvers, last year’s leading scorer, has taken on more of a tertiary scoring role, but the Wolverines would be fools to discount him.

Four-star freshman shooting guard Jonathan Davis is Wisconsin’s top bench option. The 6-foot-5 Davis (7.3 ppg) averages the fourth-most minutes on the team and is a terrific rebounder for his size (4.8 RPG, 1.4 orpg). Tyler Wahl (4.9 ppg, 3.6 RPG), a versatile 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, also plays big minutes off the bench, and can stretch the floor, rebound, and defend. Trevor Anderson, a 6-foot-3 senior, rounds out the rotation. His usage rate is a nearly invisible 10.7, but he’s shooting 73 percent from the floor.

Vital stats

Wisconsin ranks 336th in tempo. If John Beilein were coaching in this game, it’d be even in this regard. But under Juwan Howard’s more flexible, faster-paced system, it’ll be a battle of which team can assert its preferred style.

The Badgers are averaging just 8.2 turnovers per game (12.1 turnover rate). Per KenPom, they’re the third-best team in the country at protecting the ball. They’re simply not going to give up free possessions.

Wisconsin is hitting a whopping 41.4 percent from 3-point range, which ranks fourth in the nation. That’s what happens when all of your rotation players can shoot the ball.

Overall, the Badgers are strong in all of the “Four Factors” categories, with the lone exception being offensive rebounding: their ORB rate of just 23.7 ranks 271st in the nation.

What to watch for

Something has to give. Michigan’s 3-point defense ranks 12th out of 14 teams in Big Ten play, as the Wolverines allow teams to shoot 36.4 percent from deep. Holding Minnesota to 7-of-28 from downtown last week was encouraging, but the Gophers were shooting just above 30 percent coming in. Wisconsin is an entirely different animal.

In conference play, the Wolverines’ turnover rate of 19.6 is dead last in the Big Ten. While it’s still a small sample size of only five games, Michigan can’t afford to give up nearly that many possessions against the Badgers, who will almost always make you pay for that sort of thing.

With Eli Brooks out of the lineup, Trice scored 28 points and nailed five 3-pointers in Wisconsin’s 81-74 win over the Wolverines last February. With Trice playing the best basketball of his career right now, this has the makings of a statement game for Brooks, as the Wolverines’ best perimeter defender will be tasked with slowing the Badgers’ veteran.