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Michigan at Wisconsin Preview: Frustration continues

The Wolverines will try to turn things around in an unfriendly venue.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

As tempting as it is to bemoan yet another frustrating loss that the Michigan Wolverines choked away down the stretch, the team is unfortunately sending the fanbase towards something worse: apathy. Reality is finally settling in, and perhaps the only thing that can save this season is a Big Ten Tournament title.

That would likely require four-straight wins over quality competition, which might be as likely as Michigan winning out the rest of the regular season. That is probably the only other path to the Tournament, and it means beating the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison, which should be on the border of a Quad 1 game at the end of the season.

The Trohl Center has not often been kind to the Wolverines, and everyone remembers the conclusion of last season’s affair. However, Michigan was victorious two years ago after its Covid pause, and the current Wisconsin squad is not at the same standard the Badgers usually pose. But with how this season has gone, not many are feeling too hopeful this Valentine’s Day.

Michigan Wolverines (14-11, 8-6) at Wisconsin Badgers (14-10, 6-8)

Date & Time: Tuesday, Feb. 14, 9 p.m.
Location: Kohl Center, Madison, WI
TV/Streaming: ESPN2
Big Ten Standings: UM t-5th, UW 10th
DraftKings Odds: UM +1, O/U 131

Growing pains

I mentioned a few games ago that the season is trending towards “think about the future” territory, and while that seems like even more of a reality now, there are also tangible benefits for the next month. Youth is still this team’s biggest challenge and the game-to-game volatility is obvious.

Madison will be a good test for Dug McDaniel, Kobe Bufkin, and Jett Howard, where a hostile crowd and solid defense will give them all they can handle. Michigan has experienced way too many possessions with no clear plan this season, and that does not all fall on McDaniel’s shoulders alone. All five pieces of the offense must be in sync, and far too often that is not the case.

The seven games left — including four tough environments and a rivalry game — will be invaluable for the young Wolverines, and even if the results go the wrong way, there is plenty of learning to be had. Hopefully Michigan can grow from the final five minutes against Indiana and show some tangible growth that helps on Tuesday.

Maintain control

As seen plenty of times this season, runs by the opponent (aided by Michigan scoring droughts) haven been a big problem. That is always a major concern heading into somewhere like the Kohl Center, where the crowd (and officials) can quickly get in the visitors’ heads and exacerbate negative trends.

The thing is, Wisconsin is not necessarily that scary on offense. Aside from beating Penn State last week, the past six games have been pretty poor, and the Badgers rank just 12th in the conference in offensive efficiency. Nearly everything for them has been a struggle, aside from not turning the ball over, and they of course rank at the bottom in pace, so this on paper this seems like a manageable task.

Michigan has shown it can buckle down defensively and even clean up the glass. The worry here is that if some lower percentage looks go down and the scoring dries up on the other end, suddenly the atmosphere could play a big role against a fairly young team. The biggest factor here is staying in control on Tuesday, as a good defensive effort should otherwise be enough.