Michigan has suffered its fair share of agonizing losses to Wisconsin over the past six seasons. The Wolverines saw almost every version of the script during their 10 game losing streak against the Badgers. Michigan experienced the wrath of a Wisconsin offense operating to near perfection, failed to score 20 points in either half of a Big Ten tournament game , watched a handful of once promising upset bids fall short at the Kohl Center and, most recently, felt the heartbreak of a buzzer beating defeat. Given that recent history, there’s no more satisfying way to beat Wisconsin than how Michigan won this afternoon. Michigan beat Wisconsin – handily – at its own game.
Benches aren’t emptied in the closing minutes of many Big Ten games and the fact that Beilein had the luxury to empty his emphasizes what a dominating performance this was. Michigan not only defended Wisconsin better than any team this season, it scored the ball more efficiently against Wisconsin than any team has all season. The Wolverines scored 1.09 points per trip against one of the best defenses in the country while holding the Badgers to a meager .76 points per possession.
Nothing was easy for the Michigan offense but it was able to manufacture enough positive possessions. The Wolverines made 45% of their twos and 27% of their threes for a 44% effective field goal percentage against the NCAA’s best shooting defense. Despite the mediocre appearance of those numbers, they are all better than the average shooting numbers that Wisconsin has allowed this season. Michigan’s offense prevailed by over-performing in two areas where the Badgers typically excel and Michigan usually struggles. The Wolverines crashed the glass – rebounding 43% of their misses for 13 second chance points – and got to the free throw line 20 times. Michigan didn’t turn the ball over and only scored 20% of its points from the three point line.
I wrote in the preview that Michigan couldn’t beat the Badgers in a shootout and that defensive stats would be the ones to pay attention to. You can’t defend Wisconsin much better than Michigan did today. This was by far the most consistent, disciplined and effective team defense that the Wolverines have played all season long. Michigan had a good plan and was able to mitigate Wisconsin’s bigs inside without surrendering many open threes.
Michigan’s field goal defense spearheaded the entire effort and Wisconsin rarely had uncontested opportunities from the field. The Badgers made 29% of their twos, 35% of their threes for a 38% effective field goal percentage. Michigan wasn’t great on the defensive glass, allowing Wisconsin to rebound 33% of its missed shots, but did force the Badgers to turn the ball over. This was the first time that Wisconsin turned the ball over on over 20 percent of their possessions since last year’s NCAA tournament and Michigan was able to play aggressive defense without fouling. The Badgers attempted just five free throws on the day for a free throw rate of under 10 percent. Only Jordan Taylor (12 points on 15 shots) scored more than six points for the game.
Michigan sits at 3-1 in the Big Ten with games against Northwestern and at Iowa on the docket for the next week. Both are games that Michigan should win but the Wolverines will have to be careful to focus on the task at hand rather than letting their eyes wander ahead to a Tuesday night date with Michigan State at Crisler Arena.
- Trey Burke: Burke went head-to-head with the best point guard in the Big Ten and outplayed him. Their numbers might be fairly comparable but Burke battled Taylor defensively and made all of the big plays that Michigan needed down the stretch. His fast break layup where he took the ball right at Jordan Taylor and finished through contact, stretching Michigan’s lead to 17, was the highlight of his night but there were many. Burke did all of his damage inside the arc – 6 for 14 on twos – and had his fair share of misses but hit a number of timely elbow jumpers.
- Zack Novak: Zack Novak’s stat line isn’t half bad but it doesn’t do his performance justice: 12 points on 5 of 10 (0-4 3pt) shooting with three rebounds, one assist, two turnovers and a steal. Novak was more assertive offensively than he has been this year and was aggressive taking the ball toward the hoop. Of course it’s cliché but he also made the plays that don’t show up in the box score, for example: diving on the floor for a loose ball and throwing it over his head to Trey Burke for a fast break layup or grabbing a steal, starting the break and keeping an offensive rebound alive for a Jordan Morgan layup. Perhaps the most impressive stat: Michigan was +32 with Novak on the floor and -14 in the five minutes he was on the bench. Cazzie Russell told John Beilein that Zack Novak was the guy he would want next to him in a fox hole and who could disagree?
- Jordan Morgan: I remember Tom Crean’s press conference at Crisler Arena last season when he ranted that the Hoosiers need to be more “combative”. For the last two games, Jordan Morgan has been combative. Morgan had 10 rebounds, in the second half, and five of them were offensive. There were numerous occasions where Morgan simply outworked multiple Wisconsin players to secure offensive rebounds and keep Michigan possessions alive. His defense around the basket was also strong as the Badgers made just 29% of their two point field goals and big man Jared Berggren didn’t score while Morgan was on the floor.
- Stu Douglass: Douglass picked up five steals in this game after stealing the ball just eight times in Michigan’s first 15 games. He was extremely active defensively on the perimeter but also helping on Wisconsin’s big men. Burke guarded Taylor for much of the first 30 minutes but Douglass spent significant time on him down the stretch. His only shot of the game was a huge three to silence an early Wisconsin run – efficient with no turnovers. Watching him pick Taylor’s pocket 30 feet from the basket was especially impressive given how hard Douglass has worked to improve on his defense throughout his career.
- Tim Hardaway Jr.: Hardaway responded from a lackluster performance at Indiana by scoring 17 points on 4 of 10 (2-3 3pt) shooting with 10 rebounds, two assists and no turnovers. He only attempted three triples, making two, and they were good attempts. He attacked the basket (8 FTA) against a team that’s tough around the hoop. But forget all of that, his defensive rebounding was the most important facet of his game today. When he’s aggressive on the glass he grabs rebounds that other Michigan players simply can’t. He had 10 boards today, most well above the rim, for the double-double.
- Evan Smotrycz: Smotrycz struggled with his shot – 1 of 6 (1-5 3pt) – and had just three points and four rebounds including a tough offensive board late. That’s two pretty average games in a row for Smotrycz, who’s had to play more time at the five recently with both injuries, foul trouble and finding room for Stu and Zack to play at the same time.
- Carlton Brundidge: Brundidge was thrown into the fire in the first half and came away with a very tough defensive rebound. He still has a ways to go but it was good to see him provide some tough minutes early with Michigan’s bigs in foul trouble.
- Blake McLimans: Blake is playing a lot of “get-me-over” minutes to spell Morgan and Smotrycz at this point and he’s doing a decent job of it. He’s moving his feet pretty well and not making any major mistakes.