Wisconsin is rarely an easy opponent for Michigan basketball, and it took a complete game from the Wolverines to split the season series. With slightly better officiating and a much improved offense from the first time around, Michigan earned an important win on Saturday in front of an electric home crowd.
The Wolverines did not pull away until the last 60 seconds, but they prevented any Badger threats in a contested second half. The defense played its role perfectly, and held the visitors to their worst offensive performance in 11 games. Wisconsin is not a great matchup for Michigan’s roster, but the Maize and Blue did enough to hang on for the win.
Picking the right battles
Opposing big men have given Michigan tons of trouble in conference play, which is not surprising given the team’s composition. Ethan Happ looked ready to crush the Wolverines yet again after dropping 26 points last month in Madison. Early on he seemed to be getting the better end against Jon Teske, as head coach John Beilein chose to not double team him.
However, Teske held his ground as the game progressed, forcing a handful of misses on good looks. Happ was visibly frustrated and also sat for a good portion of the second half with foul trouble. He ended with 18 points but was not very efficient and had one of his worst games of the season.
A lot of this can be attributed to Teske, who looked to be more aggressive as the game went on. Perhaps this was intentional; Michigan’s two losses were both due to early foul trouble, and the team simply cannot afford to be without Teske for long stretches of the game. Look no further than his 17 points and 12 rebounds on Saturday, once again fueling the offense.
Look who it is
Michigan does not win without Teske’s effort, but the standout performance belongs to Charles Matthews. Like many others, my patience with Matthews has worn thin recently, but the senior was on a mission to change the narrative against Wisconsin. His 18 points and 60 percent eFG were his best in far too long, as he led the Wolverines in scoring.
Strangely, the majority of his shots were mid-range jumpers, an area where he has struggled severely. In conference play, Matthews was hitting just 12 percent of his mid-range shots entering Saturday — 12 percent! He was a crisp 5-for-7 against the Badgers, though, with many of those coming in big moments.
I am still very skeptical of his ability to be an efficient scorer, but perhaps he is due for some positive regression. If so, Matthews could go a long way in reviving a Michigan offense that has lacked the ability to pummel opponents like in years past.
Still not perfect
Michigan scored over 1.00 PPP, which works when the defense allows just 0.87 PPP like it did against the Badgers, but it does seem to justify the team’s projected No. 2 seed as opposed to a top-four ranking. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Tuesday’s solid three-point shooting effort looks like an anomaly, as the Wolverines shot under 24 percent against Wisconsin.
Unfortunately, the progress that Ignas Brazdeikis made from the first matchup was temporarily halted, as the freshman had only two points. Hopefully it is just a Wisconsin thing, as Brazdeikis has been on a tear against all other conference opponents. He still is one of the few Wolverines willing to attack the rim, which needs to become more of a focal point for the offense.