Who: Michigan (10-2) vs Wisconsin (9-3)
Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
When: Wednesday, December 31st 2pm ET
Line: U-M by 3
Preview: Stat Sheet
Radio: MGoBlue, WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050)
The fun and games are over and it’s time to tip off the grinding Big Ten schedule. Only 3 of Michigan’s next 19 games are against teams outside of the RPI top 100 and the Big Ten is going to be more competitive from top to bottom than it has been in years. If you caught last night’s Illinois/Purdue game you got a pretty good reminder of what Big Ten basketball is all about.
Wisconsin is a team designed for conference play. Bo Ryan has turned Wisconsin into a machine that systematically rises to the top of the Big Ten year in and year out. Last year’s team lost to Marquette and Duke in the non-conference before winning the Big Ten with a 16-2 record and taking the tournament title for good measure. When you look at Wisconsin you have to throw out their losses to Texas, Marquette, and UConn and realize that they are going to bring it on Wednesday.
The key for both teams in this game is pace. Michigan averages 65.8 possessions per game compared to Wisconsin’s 61.2. The Big Ten is known for slow basketball and Wisconsin is one of the reasons why. The only conference team that plays slower than Wisconsin is Iowa (57.2) and they are the slowest team in the country. Michigan isn’t an uptempo team but they need to play the game at their pace and not let Wisconsin take the air out of the ball. Wisconsin’s 3 losses came in games with over 63 possessions and they have only won two games with over 63 possessions (UW-GB and SIU-Edwardsville).
Wisconsin’s backcourt consists of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon and they can both shoot it. Hughes is shooting 47.8% from long range while averaging 30 mpg, 12.6 ppg, and 2.8 apg to 1.3 to/game. Bohannon’s percentage is down a little from last year at 35.2% but he leads the team in long range attempts.
Up front the Badgers lean on the duo of Joe Krabbenhoft and Marcus Landry. Landry averages 12.1 ppg to go along with his 4.3 boards but he’s also a threat from outside with a 42.9% 3pt percentage. Krabbenhoft is a guy who has never quite turned into a superstar but is just consistent. Krabbenhoft averages a balanced 7.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, and 2.5 apg.
Keaton Nankivil (5.1ppg, 3.9 rpg) rounds out the starting lineup but the guy to watch out for is sixth man Jon Leuer. Leuer is a 6-10 sophomore forward who can step out and hit the three (46.7%) and averages 9.8 ppg and 3.6 rpg.
Wisconsin is a team full of guys who can step out and shoot the three but also play disciplined slow basketball and grind you up. The keys for Michigan beyond dictating the tempo are winning the turnover battle and keeping Wisconsin off the free throw line. Michigan has done a good job keeping opponents off the line but they also don’t do a very good job getting to the line. Michigan plays best when they use their 1-3-1 effectively and create turnovers and get some easy baskets. The 1-3-1 has looked a bit dicey over the last couple games but Beilein has typically done a good job tweaking it just the right way in big games.
KenPom thinks this is a game Michigan should win 67-63 (67% confidence) and I agree as long as Michigan can play their game. Hopefully they come ready to play despite students being absent because if they don’t Wisconsin will come out swinging and steal one in Ann Arbor. Arguably our three worst games have been when there are no students (Savannah State, Florida Gulf Coast, and North Carolina Central). I worry a little bit about some of the freshmen in their first Big Ten game but they have played the likes of Duke and UCLA and played in College Park so I think they are at least a little battle tested. These first four conference games are huge and it’s important for Michigan to get off to a very good start if they want to go dancing down the road.
Thoughts and predictions in the comments. Also, if you have the day off and are in the area try to make it to Crisler Arena because there are still tickets available.