Who: Michigan (10-7, 3-2) vs. Wisconsin (14-4, 4-2)
No Big Ten road game is easy but the trip to Madison is exceptionally painful for just about every Big Ten team. The Badgers’ numbers at home are staggering. 130-10 since Bo Ryan arrived and only seven different teams have won there. Michigan hasn’t won in Madison since 1999 and John Beilein has yet to beat Bo Ryan during his tenure in Ann Arbor.
Sounds like the perfect opportunity to pick up a road win, right?
OK, maybe not. But that being said, the match-ups aren’t nearly as unfavorable as years past. Last year Wisconsin sported numerous big men including Jon Leuer, Marcus Landry, Joe Krabbenhoft (who had a knack to grabbing every backbreaking offensive rebound), and Keaton Nankivil among others. This year, since Jon Leuer’s injury, Wisconsin has only one player over 6’6 that averages over 10 minutes per game.
That’s not to say the Badgers don’t have size, the top 8 players (minus Leuer) in their rotation have an average weight of 208 pounds, Michigan’s top 8 average 203 pounds. You won’t find a guard under 195 pounds on the Wisconsin roster while Michigan’s is cluttered with guys like Douglass, Lucas-Perry, and Manny Harris who are easily giving up 10-20 pounds on their Wisconsin opponents.
You can be sure that Wisconsin will run their flex offense to perfection because Bo Ryan won’t have it any other way. Despite their new found love of the perimeter, I am sure that Ryan will not miss out on the opportunity to post up his stronger guards. Michigan has historically fared poorly versus to flex offense under Beilein as well, losing twice in three years to Al Skinner’s Boston College team.
Thanks to Robbie Allen of StatSheet.com listening to my crazy suggestions we now have offense vs. defense graphs comparing seasonal numbers. Here you can see Michigan’s offense charted versus Wisconsin’s defense.
Wisconsin’s defense ranks 8th in KenPom’s adjusted efficiency, allowing only .855 points per possession. They hold opponents to a dreadful 42.8% from 2 point range and an overall effective field goal percentage of 44.5%. Most importantly, Wisconsin is the best defensive rebounding team in the country rebounding over 75% of their opponents misses. Similar to UConn, they don’t force many turnovers (18.8%) which is good news for Michigan’s backcourt which has been shaky over the last couple weeks.
While it isn’t quite as good as Wisconsin’s defense, the Badgers’ offense is not too shabby itself. Wisconsin does a great job of holding onto the ball which means Michigan, who has forced a lot of turnovers this year, will have their work cut out for them on the defensive end. The Badgers shoot 51.5% from two point range but have actually taken a ton of three point shots this year, they have attempted 44% of their field goals from three point range in Big Ten play and are shooting 35% on threes for the year.
The good news for Michigan is that Jon Leuer was the Badgers’ most efficient offensive player (ORtg 119.8, Usage 27.1%) and he is out of the lineup indefinitely. He was shooting 35% from three point range but more importantly he was Wisconsin’s leading scorer inside the arc (56.5% on twos), their best shotblocker, and one of their top defensive rebounders.
Since Leuer’s injury, the Badgers have consistently shifted toward becoming a more perimeter oriented team. Luckily they have Trevon Hughes, one of the premiere guards in the league (16 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 49% 3ptfg). He is almost certain to give Michigan fits and I wonder who will draw the task of checking him. Morris had been playing well on defense but Kemba Walker reminded him that he’s just a freshman. I would suspect that Michigan will give Douglass and Lucas-Perry a try as well to see how they fare.
Jason Bohannon is the Badger’s certified sniper, shooting 39.8% from three point range but providing little else. Sophomore Jordan Taylor is one of the most intriguing players on Wisconsin’s roster this year. He isn’t a three point shooter but he has a stellar assist rate (27.2%), doesn’t turn it over, and can get to the line (47.3% FTR)
Down low, the Badgers have relied on Keaton Nankivil in Leuer’s absence. Nankivil is a very good player but he is definitely not Jon Leuer. When Nankivil sits, Wisconsin leans of a number of players including Tim Jarmusz, Ryan Evans, Mike Bruesewitz, and Jared Berggren. None of them are really impact players but they are all strong even if a bit undersized.
I think DeShawn Sims needs a big game for Michigan to have any chance. Sims doesn’t typically play well on the road or versus a strong interior defensive team like Wisconsin but if there is ever a chance for him to put together a monster game on the road, it’s versus a team that lost their best post player. Sims rebounded with an intensity that we haven’t seen in quite some time versus Connecticut and it would be great to see him keep that effort up on the glass.
Manny Harris tends to struggle versus Wisconsin, averaging just 8 points per game on 9 of 39 combined shooting in his last three games versus the Badgers. Wisconsin plays incredibly compact, physical, and fundamental defense that has gotten the best of Harris, not allowing him to get to the hoop. Manny’s one great game versus the Badgers came during his freshman year in Madison when Manny almost single handily led Michigan to an upset win.
Finally it comes down to the shooters. Novak, Douglass, and Lucas-Perry need to find their stroke. Michigan’s best three point shooting performance this year is 37.5% while last year they had several performances over 40%. It’s clear they aren’t a good three point shooting team but you have to think they could be due for just one incredibly hot performance, maybe in the low 40s.
Michigan has been playing good basketball over the last five games or so but they have also been playing mostly weaker opponents. Now, headed into a brutal stretch of 3 games (@ Wisc, @Purdue, vs. MSU) Michigan has an opportunity. These games are all long shots but if Michigan were to figure out a way to win two of them they would be in the thick of NCAA bubble talk, after being dead in the water a couple weeks back. I don’t know if Beilein has any “queme los barcos” motivational ploy up his sleeve but it’s probably time to use it.