Game 29: Wisconsin at Michigan Preview

Dylan Burkhardt
Who: Wisconsin (20-6) at Michigan (17-11) Wisconsin_Logo[1]
Where: Crisler Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
When: Wednesday, February 23rd, 6:30 PM ET
Radio: MGoBlue / WWWW 102.9 FM 
More: Beilein Video, Hardaway & Morgan Video, Opp. Q&A, Pick to Click

We’ve discussed the importance of this game ad nauseam, and all of the talk about “statement wins” or Michigan’s tournament resume becomes a bit stale without actual wins. We’ll save all the bubble talk for another day and try to figure out what exactly Michigan needs to do to win this game. If you follow this blog, you probably have a good understand of Wisconsin and the slow-paced uber-efficient style of basketball that they play.

The Badgers don’t just have the most efficient offense in the Big Ten; they have the best offense in the country. Wisconsin is scoring 1.19 points per possession in conference play and also plays the game at a slower pace, 58 possessions, than any other Division I team. The Badgers are a good, not great, shooting team with an eFG% of 52.1% – 49% on twos and 38% on threes – and rank seventh in the league in terms of getting to the free throw line and offensive rebounding. So what makes Wisconsin so good? They don’t turn the ball over. Wisconsin has turned the ball over on just 12.3% of their possessions in Big Ten play this season. They also make a Division I best 83% of their free throws. Wisconsin won’t beat itself, that much is certain.

Defensively, Wisconsin keeps it simple. The Badgers force opponents into bad shots, with a 49% effective field goal percentage allowed, and clean up the mess with a Big Ten best 71.7% defensive rebounding percentage in conference play. Wisconsin is the second worst Big Ten team at forcing turnovers, with just a 15.1 forced turnover rate, but that is more due to style than anything else. Wisconsin isn’t going to play an over aggressive attacking ball pressure defense, the Badgers are content to sit back and make you work incredibly hard to find an open look. Combine Wisconsin’s strong and physical nature with their discipline and execution and you have an awfully tough, if not overwhelming, defense.

Personnel wise it all starts with Jordan Taylor. The junior point guard is often content to sit back early on, preferring to let the game come to him, but he can hit a few triples in a flash that will completely change the complexion of any game. Taylor is the epitome of efficiency as he sports the ninth best offensive rating in the country and seventh best turnover rate; he’s also a 41% three point shooter to boot. This video says it all:

While Wisconsin still has a number of prototypical 6-foot-4 to 6-foot-6 players that you’ve never heard of that still manage to make huge plays – Mike Bruesewitz, Tim Jarmusz, Josh Gasser, Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson to name a few – they also have one of the best inside-out big men in the country in Jon Leuer. Leuer shoots 51% on twos and 43% on threes (49/115) and is athletic enough to take slower big men off the dribble. 6-foot-8 245 pound Keaton Nankivil joins him down low and he is one of the most deadly pick-and-pop bigs in the Big Ten. Nankivil shoots 48% on threes and recently scored 22 points on 5 of 5 three point shooting versus Penn State.

Wisconsin’s style of the play puts more importance on every individual possession. The Badgers can afford to do this because, for the most part, they don’t have defensive breakdowns, take bad shots or commit sloppy turnovers. Bo Ryan is confident that his team will make fewer mistakes than your team and by slowing down the game his team makes the most off its opponents’ mistakes. Michigan’s offense has proven that it’s capable of limiting turnovers, and making a few shots isn’t an unreasonable goal, but the problem lies on the defensive end.


Wisconsin’s swing offense has worked to perfection during Wisconsin’s last two visits to Ann Arbor. The Badgers scored 135 points in 111 possessions over those two games combined which divides out to 1.22 points per trip with an eFG% of 66% – 62% on twos and 49% on threes. Simply put, Michigan hasn’t come close to stopping the Badgers in Ann Arbor. It’s obviously a small sample size, and Michigan has defended Wisconsin better in Madison, but that doesn’t make the numbers any less daunting. The Wolverines will need one of their best defensive performances of the year and they’ll also probably need Wisconsin to miss a few open shots as well.

If Michigan can get stops, they have a chance to win this game. If Wisconsin comes out of the tunnel firebombing and scores on the first 10 possessions of the game, well, it’s going to be a long night. Pomeroy likes Wisconsin, 62-57 in a 54 possession battle, and gives Michigan a 29% chance at the upset. Michigan has come painstakingly close to a big upset this year, whether versus Syracuse in Atlantic City or Ohio State and Kansas in Crisler Arena, but the clock is ticking.

  • Charles

    My head looks at this matchup and says we have no chance. But I just have a good feeling about today. Stu adds another huge game clinching 3 to his career toady.


  • Mark

    Wisconsin is probably just going to have too much size for UM. Probably because their not flashy and their so methodical, I really feel like they are an underrated team nationally.

  • Adam Sobczak

    If Michigan can shoot 50 percent from three point range, take great care of the ball, rebound Wisconsin’s misses, and contain Taylor, they’ll have a good shot to win this game. They’ll be playing off the crowd in Ann Arbor which should inspire them defensively. Okay, so U-M has to play their best game of the year and shoot really well. I wish i could watch this game, but i have to referee a JV high school basketball game tonight at 6 et. I should be able to watch the last ten minutes of the Michigan game. I’ll be asking the athletic director at the high school to turn on cable to BTN. I hope it’s a great ball game and Michigan gets another Big Ten win.

  • KAB

    We better not put Wisky on the free throw line.My gut feeling is that we win this game,so I think we get it done.Let’s go Blue..

  • Cner16

    If Michigan keeps the rebound margin in check, I like our chances. It’s just so hard to keep all the 6′ 6″ guys off the boards with novak and vogrich trying to box them out. As for our tournament chances, we need this game: it may be our last crack at a top 25 RPI team. Go Blue!

  • Rob

    I really think a big factor in us doing so poorly at home against them is that we have always played them first here. And we always play way better the second time and almost pulled two upsets at a place that is impossible to win at.

    For once, we get them at home for the second game and we played them well at Madison before it got away from us at the end. that score was not indicative of how we played.

    I think our time has come despite the difficulty of our defense matching up with them. Remember purdue two years ago? We are due for an offensive performance like that one….and the timing and circumstances is exactly the same. will be tough but i think we pull this one out.

    • Azad

      Also, not that I necessarily think this is of incredible importance, but I feel like the last couple home games vs. Wisconsin have been near New Years and times where there just weren’t a lot of people on campus; I remember them coming out, shooting well, and there just being no energy at all in Crisler. I think tonight will definitely be a different circumstance.

      Dylan, I thought that while Hardaway played OK against Illinois, the size of the defenders against him was a big issue. Who do you think Wisconsin puts on him, and how do you see that matchup going? Hardaway had a good half the last time and then got pretty much shut out the rest of the way if I remember correctly…

    • AG2

      Actually, last year we played @ Wisconsin first, and let a lead slip away when Trevon Hughes took over in the last 10 mins, just like this year with Jordan Taylor. Then they came to Ann Arbor and hit almost every single one of their shots with less than 3 seconds left on the shot clock.

  • El Capitan

    I think Taylor is going to hound Darius all night, but that won’t stop Timmy from taking over like Manny Harris circa 2009. I also think Smotrycz returns to form after disappearing in the last few weeks. And Zack will hit a few big 3-balls. But Nankivil is going to go off from beyond the arc, as well. Somehow, we survive…

    UW – 53
    UM – 56

    P.S. I heard the halftime show is supposed to be awesome…

  • MikeSal

    Wisconsin has not played well on the road in league play this year. They’ve lost to Illinois and MSU on the road which I feel are teams that are comparable to us. We might not have the height that those teams have but I feel like we have an adequate amount of play makers.

    This game will be a tester. We all know how big it is. We have to do what we do. Drive to the basket, rebound, make open shots, get loose balls, and simply put, battle. If we win this one we will have definitely earned it. Go Blue!

  • Mattski

    No way Michigan loses tonight.

  • Adam Sobczak

    go blue!

  • J.D.

    This game is going to come down to defense and rebounding. Wisconsin is going to try to slow us down and make us out rebound and out shoot them. Against Iowa we got into some foul trouble and we seen match-ups like Smotrycz on Tisdale. We cannot do that against Wisconsin. (Did John Horford even have any minutes against Iowa?) Anyway I don’t think this game should be looked at as an opportunity to get guys minutes or to force the team to get into true set plays. When you are an undersized, team like Michigan against a bigger more physical team and your game plan is to go out and call plays from the point and slow down the pace, it’s like saying hey bigger, better, more athletic players we want to be sure you’re right in front of us on defense. To win it’s going to have to be sloppy: score fast, get in the bonus, let them work the clock but only on their possessions.

    For some reason I feel Novak is going to step up on offense, to compliment the big three. His offensive production seems to really be in the dumps 27% from the field and 19% from beyond the ark in the last 5 games (Smotrycz is shooting 26% and 18% respectively in the last 5)

    Prediction: UW-64 UM-68

    • Rob

      Disagree JD with your statement that we need to speed it up. Empty possessions is what kills you against Wisconsin. That’s why the first game got away from us.

      I don’t mean stall but we can’t come down and fire up shots in the first ten seconds of the shot clock constantly. Have to be smart, but still aggressive….esp. if we heat up. If that makes sense. You can’t force this game into the seventies. You still have to be efficient and make shots. Thats what this game comes down to: making enough shots and plays and playing defense just well enough and not just giving them easy plays off turnovers and not having empty possession on our end.

      • Azad

        Opportunities for transition and ‘speeding it up’ are all going to start with defense and defensive rebounding. I think Morris pushing the ball to get our shooters open looks in transition is going to be a big factor, but we’re also going to really need to execute well in the half court. It’s going to take our best played game of the season to win this one tonight.

  • Beilein’s Bricks

    Great write-up/preview. I agree, it’s put-up or shut-up time. We don’t match-up well with Wisky and Bo Ryan owns JB. However, you still have to play the game so we have a chance. We are really going to need the role players (Novak, Stu, Smot, Vogrich) to contribute in order to win. I think Wisky will clutch-and-grab Darius and Tim all game long, so we need the others to provide support.

    • Merlin

      thats exactly right-they will be able to take away Morris most likely so the other guys need to step up.

  • Chris

    they just got to leave it all on the floor tonight. No one expects them to what do they have to lose? they seem to play better when they take on the underdog mentality…games vs kansas, osu, syracuse, and @ msu seem to come to mind (although they did only win one of those game). I expect a very competitive game tonight and cannot wait to watch.

  • JimC

    Prediction: I will be there screaming my lungs out, to disrupt the corn-fed crew-cut white-bread-eating “badger” cheeseheads.

  • gpsimms

    I read through Rothstein’s mlive chat because I was bored. About 3 people asked what the deal was with Jordan Dumars. I think every Michigan basketball related article from now on should have a subtitle, “Jordan Dumars is a walk on. The chance he ever plays significant minutes at Michigan is slightly greater than the chance of David Merritt making the nba, and slightly less than the chance of Colton Christian making the nba.”

    So for example, this article should be titled:

    “Game 29: Wisconsin at Michigan Preview
    **Jordan Dumars is a walk on. The chance he ever plays significant minutes at Michigan is slightly greater than the chance of David Merritt making the nba, and slightly less than the chance of Colton Christian making the nba.**”

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      But, but, but… his last name is Dumars.

      • gpsimms

        Listen, Dylan, it’s your job to educate these people. If you take your blogging seriously, then every article you write from this day forward will have that subtitle. If you don’t, then you’re just another bleacher report writer to me.

        • Chris

          i hope your kidding

          • the_white_tiger

            He is.

  • Section13Row15

    I think this game will come down to foul trouble and free throws. Whichever team can get the other into foul trouble and converts on its free throws will win this game. We seem to get a couple guys into foul trouble early every game (either via horrible calls or by not moving our feet) so I hope JB rotates Horford in a little bit more to get J-Mo out of some defensive situations early. I hope I don’t have a voice tomorrow if all goes well. Let’s make Crisler a tough place to play tonight!

  • billiam

    I don’t think this has to be our best played game. Didn’t we take the #1 and #2 teams (at the time) to the wire? This just has to be on par with those games.

    (Not sure where ‘Cuse was ranked either, but that game didn’t look as good as the other two.)

  • Chad

    I think the key is to stay out of foul trouble, and rebounding. I also think they will shut THJ down, so scoring will have to come from Novak or Douglass. I think Wisconsin breaks our hearts in the last minute.

  • Ryan

    I to, have a really good feeling about tonights game. It may have to do with me wanting us to make it to the tournament so bad. I am sick of living in Big east country hearing nonstop about how good the big east is.
    Michigan will shoot 45% from three (10-22). They will not have more than 6 turnovers, and will rebound 85% of Wisconsin’s misses.
    The final will be UM 61- Wiscy 55

  • KAB

    I hope he is kidding….Dylan,keep up the good work!

  • KAB

    I watched Dumars play at Country Day a couple of times,honestly I dont even think he was a top 3 player on his team.The last name is doing wonders for him…

  • jmblue

    Wisconsin’s season numbers are daunting. But when you split them for home and away, there’s a crazy disparity. Away from the Kohl Center, they’re not that good. Let’s just hope that holds up for one more game.

  • grandchamp21

    People are loading up on Wisconsin, the line opened at -3 and is now -4.5. I like our chances though. Go Blue!!!

  • KAB

    Yea I saw that.I just hope Ed Hightower is not doing the game!!!

  • steve sharik

    Take heart, M fans.

    Wisconsin’s road wins: at Marquette, at Northwestern, at Iowa

    All of Wisconsin’s losses:
    -at UNLV
    -at Old Spice Classic v. ND
    -at Illinois
    -at Penn St.
    -at MSU
    -at Purdue

    This, folks, is not a great road team.

    • Dylan Burkhardt

      Sure they might not be a “great road team” but all of those losses are at teams with better KenPom rankings than Michigan.