|Who:No. 6 Michigan (26-6, 12-6 B1G) vs. Wisconsin (21-10, 12-6 B1G)|
|Where: United Center (Chicago, IL)|
|When: ~2:30 p.m., Friday, March 15th, 2013|
|Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 1050 AM|
|More: Big Ten Tournament Content, Big Ten Tournament Bracket|
Michigan hasn’t won more than one game at the Big Ten Tournament since 1998. That was the year the Wolverines won the conference’s inaugural tournament but they’ve been unable to sustain any success since. This year’s Michigan roster is arguably the most talented the program has fielded since the conference tournament began which provides at least some hope that this could be the season the Wolverines break through with a tournament run.
John Beilein will be happy to see someone other than Thad Matta on the other sideline. The Buckeyes have ended Michigan’s Big Ten Tournament run in each of the last three seasons and a change of opposition could be just what the doctor ordered for a Wolverine tournament run.
Very few players, coaches or fans are excited to see Wisconsin opposite their name in the bracket but Michigan shouldn’t be lacking in motivation after letting one get away in Madison. The battle will pit strength on strength and weakness on weakness. Michigan’s high octane offense against the Badgers stifling defense and Wisconsin’s underwhelming offense against the Wolverines’ suspect defense.
Playing against the Badgers is a frustrating experience because they not only slow the tempo, they are able to limit shooting efficiency without fouling. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in 2-point shooting percentage, 3-point shooting percentage and free throw rate allowed. The Badgers not only force more missed shots than any other league team, they also lead the league in defensive rebounding, grabbing 73% of their opponents misses. Forcing more misses and grabbing more defensive rebounds than anyone else is a brilliant recipe for success and it’s no wonder the Badgers are the conference’s best defense by a wide margin.
Wisconsin surrendered over a point per possession just four times in Big Ten play and its worst in-conference defensive performance was 1.09 points per possession allowed. Michigan managed just .91 points per trip in the first meeting because it shot just 43% on twos and 28% on threes. Watching the Wolverines miss so many shots felt agonizing at the time but those percentages are essentially equal to Wisconsin’s Big Ten averages allowed: 42% on twos and 28% on threes.
While the Badger defense is beyond impressive, the offense lags behind. Wisconsin averages just .99 points per Big Ten possession and ranks in in the bottom half of the league in terms of: 2-point shooting, 3-point shooting, offensive rebounding, free throw rate, and free throw percentage. Wisconsin is always disciplined with the ball, turning it over on just 16% of its offensive possessions, but even those extra possessions aren’t enough to make up for its lack of firepower.
That’s not to say there are no weapons in Bo Ryan’s offensive arsenal. Sam Dekker is a very good player, great for a freshman, and he’s going to be a star as his career develops in Madison. Dekker is averaging 13 points per game over his last eight games and he’s capable slashing to the basket (55% 2-point shooting) and from long range (43% 3-point shooting).
Jared Berggren is an efficient big man but has the tendency to fall in love with the long range jumper, where he’s struggled this year in making just 19-of-75 threes, but he’s an even better defender. Berggren is the chief reason that Wisconsin’s interior defense is so stout with his combination of size and physicality.
Michigan fans need no reminder of Ben Brust’s shooting ability. Brust hit three triples, including a decisive long range effort in overtime, in addition to his halfcourt buzzer beater in the first match-up. Brust attempts 60% of his shots from long range and connects at a 39% clip.
Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz are Bo Ryan’s 6-foot-6 attack dogs but neither player is great offensively. Evans uses more possessions than any other Badger player but has the worst offensive rating on the team – shooting 42% on twos, 9% on threes and 42% on free throws. Bruesewitz is more efficient but attempts more threes than twos despite shooting just 27% from long range.
Traevon Jackson starts at the point guard while he’s backed up by George Marshall. Jackson is the best setup man on the Badger roster but he also turns the ball over more than anyone else. Marshall is an above average long range shooter, 38%, but connects on just 34% of his twos.
Nothing comes easy against Wisconsin. The recipe for beating the Badgers starts with solid defense but really comes down to being able to finish through contact and around the basket. Bo Ryan’s teams aren’t going to give up easy transition looks, second chance points or free points at the charity stripe. Wisconsin is going to force Michigan into difficult shots and see if the Wolverines can make them.
Ken Pomeroy projects a narrow Michigan win, 63-62, but essentially calls it a toss-up by giving hte Wolverines a 51% chance of advancing. Vegas is a little more bullish on the Wolverines as Michigan is a 3-point favorite.