The Michigan Wolverines took a step closer toward the NCAA Tournament with an 84-79 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes in Iowa City. The road trip continues to Madison, where Michigan will face the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers in what promises to be a heck of a matchup.
A win for the Wolverines will continue the correction that many have waited to see from Juwan Howard’s squad all season. Ranked conference road wins are at a premium at this point, and Michigan needs to make strides there to cement its spot in March.
A loss will make the Wolverines’ final stretch even more difficult with a spot in the NCAA Tournament on the line with just six games to go. Wisconsin’s NET ranking of No. 19 makes this one a big one to gain some ground on other opponents clamoring to go dancing. It won’t be easy, but the Wolverines are 4-1 against the spread and 3-2 overall in their last five games as underdogs. That means they are playing tougher against some of the better teams in the country than many expect them to. Let’s hope that trend continues.
Michigan Wolverines (14-10, 8-6) at No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers (20-5, 11-4)
Date & Time: Sunday, Feb. 20, 1 p.m.
Location: Kohl Center in Madison, WI
Big Ten Standings: MICH 7th, WIS t-2nd
This Wisconsin Badgers team is very similar to that of year’s past. One dominant player (Johnny Davis), slow-moving offense and a hustle team that is physical and takes care of the basketball. If you looked at their pure stats compared to the rest of the Big Ten, you’d be stunned to hear they were in second place in the conference.
- 10th in scoring, 71 ppg
- 14th in FG%, 42.3%
- 13th in 3FG%, 31.2%
- 11th in rebounding, 35.3 rpg
- 14th in assists, 11.2 apg
- T9th in steals, 5.2 spg
- 13th in blocks, 2.76 bpg
However, they lead the Big Ten in the most important category to Greg Gard and his team: turnovers. The Badgers average only 8.6 per contest, the fewest not only in the Big Ten, but in the country. This allows them to slow the pace of games and take leads over if other teams are sloppy. They also shoot about 74.2% from the charity stripe, fifth in the Big Ten, which helps maintain and grow leads late in ball games. Fundamentals are of the highest regard in Madison.
With a lot of freshmen on the court, this Michigan offense has been out of sorts at times this season. Their assist-to-turnover ratio is eighth in the Big Ten but has gotten a lot better as of late. They had 11 turnovers against Iowa but moved the ball better than the Hawkeyes did and hit their free throws which wound up being the difference-maker in the game. A similar game plan will have to come from the maize and blue to top the Badgers.
That may mean continued improvements from DeVante’ Jones, Eli Brooks and Hunter Dickinson with moving the ball around. The three accounted for 17 of the Wolverines’ 21 assists in the win over Iowa on Thursday, and Dickinson led the way with seven of his own.
Davis is one of the most electrifying players in the country and some have called him the best of them all. The sophomore guard is averaging 20.7 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. That’s good enough for third in scoring and fourth in rebounding in a conference that boasts some incredible big men. He’s the only guard in the top-25 in rebounding in the Big Ten this season — the next closest is Illinois’ Da’Monte Williams with 58 fewer. It will be really important for Brooks to slow this man down and box him out so he doesn’t get his own misses.
These two met twice last season with the Wolverines coming out victorious both times. On Wisconsin’s home court, Michigan pulled away in the final two minutes for a 67-59 win that was a lot closer than the scoreboard made it out to be. Wisconsin led that game by 14 points before Michigan made its triumphant comeback for a huge win. This year, closing games has been an issue for Michigan and it’s been an area the Badgers have thrived.
In Wisconsin’s five losses this season, it has been down by 10 or more points around the midway point of the game in four of them. Starting off hot and staying fundamentally sound are the keys to the game for the Wolverines.