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Game Preview: Michigan men’s basketball vs. Wisconsin

The Wolverines’ pause is coming to an end.

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NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

And we’re back.

The Michigan men’s basketball team’s 26-day hiatus will end tomorrow when the Wolverines take the court at the Kohl Center against Wisconsin.

In its 77-54 win over the Badgers last month in Ann Arbor, Michigan more or less erased any doubts about its relatively light early schedule, proving it belonged up there with Iowa, Illinois and the Badgers atop the Big Ten. But in returning from the University-mandated two-week pause due to concerns over the new B.1.1.7 COVID-19 variant, the Wolverines will have to fight to regain that spot all over again.

Just how quickly Michigan can get back to form, having had only a week of practice leading up to Sunday’s game, is a question far more pressing than any matchup variables. But if matchups are what you’re looking for, here’s a breakdown of what Wisconsin brings from the last meeting.

An update since then: the Badgers have remained an elite defensive squad, ranking second in defensive efficiency in Big Ten play, but have just the 10th-best offense in the league. It’s not due to any injuries — none of their rotation players have missed a game. But the 3-pointer, their offensive bread and butter, has dried up.

They’re shooting just 32.4 percent from downtown, ranking 10th in the conference. It doesn’t help that they’re not getting to the line, either. Their 24.6 percent free throw to field goal attempt rate ranks above only Northwestern.

Wisconsin isn’t in terrific form as of late, having gone just 3-3 over its last six games. While that probably doesn’t offset the fact that Michigan hasn’t played at all in nearly four weeks, it shouldn’t hurt the Wolverines’ confidence.

The Badgers are still a strong team, and fans or no fans, they’re 11-2 at the Kohl Center this season. But there are worse teams Michigan could have drawn for its first game back.

It’d be hard to expect the Wolverines to chase faster teams like Illinois and Iowa up and down the court for 40 minutes with rusty legs. But Wisconsin ranks just 322nd in the country in tempo. Instead of fitness, Sunday will test Michigan’s defensive communication and just how well its chemistry has held up during its hiatus. The Badgers haven’t hit shots during Big Ten play, but it doesn’t seem smart to count on that continuing for long.

Expect a low-scoring game — first to 60, if that — with both teams trying to work out some kinks, especially early. If the Wolverines had even one game under their belt since the pause, it’d be easier to predict a win against a Wisconsin team that’s been mostly treading water as of late. But at this point, all there is to do is wait and see what happens Sunday and go from there.