First Look: Michigan at Wisconsin

Dylan Burkhardt
Mich vs Holy Cross_4Michigan heads to the road to face the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday night. The Wolverines have won six straight after losing four of their first ten games, but will face a much more difficult challenge in Madison. (Photo: Scott Mapes)

The game at Wisconsin is the first of three games – followed by Iowa and a trip to Michigan State – that are as difficult as any the Wolverines have played this season.

The Badgers suffered their first loss of the season at Indiana on Tuesday, but are still one of the primary players in the Big Ten Championship race. Here’s a first look at the Badgers and what to expect on Saturday.

Pack-Line problems

It’s no secret that John Beilein has struggled against the ‘Pack Line Defense’. Beilein is just 1-11 against Bo Ryan, 0-1 against Tony Bennett at Virginia, and 0-1 against Sean Miller at Arizona.

In 12 games against Wisconsin, Michigan has scored 639 points on 697 offensive possessions, a dreadful .916 points per possession. The Wolverines have outperformed their conference scoring efficiency mark just three times in John Beilein’s tenure.


Wisconsin is generally a great defensive team, but Michigan’s inability to crack the Badger defense is something that just can’t be ignored.

Defensive weaknesses

Despite Michigan’s struggles against the Pack-Line defense, Wisconsin’s defense has looked vulnerable this season.

Indiana handed Wisconsin its first loss of the season on Tuesday at Assembly Hall thanks to an impressive offensive showing. The Hoosiers racked up 1.17 points per trip against the Badgers in the worst defensive showing for Bo Ryan’s program in a Big Ten game since March, 2012.

The Badgers clearly have some defensive issues to work out and their issues against Indiana stemmed from a failure to stop dribble penetration. Indiana was 28-of-48 on two point attempts and Yogi Ferrell (9-of-16 on twos), Will Sheehey and Stanford Robinson got to the basket at will.

Taking a look at footage from Tuesday’s game, Wisconsin’s Synergy Sports profile, Hoop-Math, and other sources, there are a few weaknesses that stand out.

Transition and secondary break

Inside the Hall published a great piece on some of Wisconsin’s defensive shortcomings and one common denominator was the secondary break.

The Badgers grade out in the 80th percentile in transition defense, according to Synergy Sports, and 40th overall in eFG% allowed in transition. But the secondary break open threes that Wisconsin gave up to Indiana are the sort that Michigan loves.

Defensive rebound. Outlet. Push. Corner three.

Michigan will need to find opportunities in unsettled situations because scoring against the Badger defense in the halfcourt could prove more difficult.


The Badgers surrender .904 points per isolation play which ranks in just the 27th percentile nationally. Michigan’s isolation defense has been criticized quite a bit but the Wolverines grade out in the 87th percentile. The Synergy numbers say that Josh Gasser, Traevon Jackson and Frank Kaminsky are all below average to poor isolation defenders. Sam Dekker and Ben Brust grade out much better this season.

Pick and roll defense

Wisconsin is just average defending ball screens.

Roll men score 1 point per possession, receiving the ball on around 20% of defended ball screens. Ball handlers score .819 points per possession.

Both of those figures grade out in just the 41st percentile nationally.

The culprits for poor ball screen defense are familiar names: Josh Gasser and Traevon Jackson. Freshman Bronson Koenig has also struggled to defend ball screens. Ben Brust is once again the best perimeter defender for the Badgers.

Post-Ups Including Passes

Wisconsin also struggles to defend the low post. Opponents are scoring 1.02 points per post-up (including passes), which ranks in just the 21st percentile nationally.

Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker grade out as below average post defenders while Nigel Hayes has been a shade more impressive – and his play is trending upward.

Elite halfcourt offense

The Badgers halfcourt offense is ranked in the 98th percentile nationally, scoring 1.036 points per halfcourt possession.

Wisconsin is unsurprisingly one of the best post-up teams in the league, scoring 1.126 points per post-up possession (including passes), but is also surprisingly efficient in the isolation game at .943 points per possession (82nd percentile).

Wisconsin is a great spot up team (1.16 PPP, 94th percentile) and comfortable shooting the ball off screens (1.42 PPP, 98th percentile).

The Badgers have an impressive 62.4% eFG% on catch and shoot jumpers and 76% of their jumpshots are threes. Wisconsin is almost as effective against a zone defense as Michigan, scoring 1.36 points per trip against zone defenses (96th percentile).

The primary sore spots for the Wisconsin offense are in transition (1.01 PPP, 46th percentile) and in the ball screen game. The Badgers score just .873 points per pick-and-roll (including passes), which ranks in just the 55th percentile nationally.

Bad memories

Michigan has a terrible record against the Badgers but has been tantalizingly close to some big victories over the past few seasons. The Wolverines led at halftime in their last two trips to the Kohl Center, and let two of their last three games against the Badgers slip away painfully.

In 2011, it was Josh Gasser’s three.

In 2013, it was Ben Brust’s halfcourt shot to send the game to overtime.

Michigan’s last win at the Kohl Center was a 51, 39 victory on February 27th, 1999.

  • Mattski

    Thanks for the (bad) memories. Am I the only one who kind of gets a kick out of
    Bo Ryan and his Pillsbury doughboys?

  • guestavo

    It’s going to be a shootout.

  • Michigan4

    I think Michigan actually matches up pretty well with this years version of Wisconsin. They seem to be smaller and less athletic than last year and while they are much better offensively, their defense is much worse this year than last. I am definitely an optimist but I like Michigan in this one 74-71.

    • shielste

      See I think this Wisconsin team is probably Bo Ryan’s most athletic team he’s had. You got a veteran PG in Jackson, who we all saw go off last game against an undersized PG. Dekker is a huge mis-match for anyone on our team trying to guard him other than GR3; so pick n roll defense is going to be huge. And then Frank the Tank down low at 7′ is going to be a problem for either of our bigs. Not to mention at all times all 5 for Wisky can hit the 3. And when they run, they score at a very effective clip.

      This Wisconsin team is built for the Final Four; no matter the lack of success Ryan has had in the NCAAT.

      • Michigan4

        I guess we can agree to disagree here. I think Dekker is a much better match up for Glenn than Ryan Evans was. Gasser and Brust can certainly shoot the ball but both are undersized for their position and neither is an exceptional athlete. Jackson is a solid PG but he isn’t the type of player that will take over a game, although he did have 21 against IU. Wisconsin is a great passing team that will not beat themselves. Michigan will have to play their best ball to win but I think they match up much better with Wisconsin than they will with a team like Iowa.

        • gpsimms

          Ryan Evans is one of the most inept offensive basketball players I have ever seen. “Matchup” is irrelevant when the guy shot 41% from 2 and 8% from 3. Also 43% from the line. Wisconsin had a serious lack of guys to create shots on last years team, and unfortunately for them it meant a lot of bricks from Evans.

          • Ryan Evans was fairly inept offensively but there was a stretch last year where he bullied GR3 on the block.

          • gpsimms

            I just checked because I was curious. In both games last year he posted an ORating of 86, which was below most other badgers in the lineup (in one of the games, it was the lowest on the team). Between the two games he shot 5-15 and 4-12 with 3 total offensive rebounds. He did have 6 assists in one game though.

          • I checked his stats as well (on the season and last year). I realize he didn’t have efficient games and couldn’t shoot a lick, but I want to say it was the second half of the game at their place. He scored a couple times on the block to start the second half then had a handful of assists when we tried to double (ineffectively).

  • gpsimms

    Great post. I mentioned in the PSU thread that Wiscy’s post up game would give us a real hard time. I think their offense will really give us trouble with all the switches we make, looking to post up on Caris, for example.

    I’m actually thinking Irvin should get a lot of run in this game. Maybe a Walton, Nik, Glenn, Zak, Big type lineup. That group is better equipped to make switches without ending up with a gross mismatch like Caris on Dekker or something like that.

    • Guest

      Nice post, by the way.

    • guestavo

      Then you give up rebounding, passing, even more penetration, transition scoring and if Zak isn’t shooting well, overall scoring.

      • gpsimms

        Good point. And if we just have to win a shootout, maybe Caris is best. On the other hand, Irvin’s usage and ORating are actually about the same as Caris.

        • guestavo

          In less minutes and even still, his DRTG, TRB%, AST%, BLK%, STL% aren’t in the same stratosphere.

          • gpsimms

            Like I said, I agree there’s a give/take there. But I doubt that the positive parts of Caris’ defensive game (steals) will outweigh the negatives (gets destroyed in the post) against wiscy.

            I’m really interested to see who can be effective. If Caris is successful enough on d, and can get into the lane to take some pressure off Nik, that could be a real key to the game.

          • guestavo

            Everyone, save for Glenn and our bigs will get destroyed in this game. Irvin isn’t the remedy to that.

            In a game where rebounding is at a premium, your best rebounding wing needs to be out there. In a game where the opposing team struggles in transition, your lightening quick wing needs to be out there. Caris is also the last likely to be taken off the dribble out of all our wings. I do agree that Caris needs to hit a perimeter shot or two and keep this nice streak of making the right play out of penetrating, but really struggling to see Irvin out there if he isn’t hitting 4/5 from 3 or something like that.

  • Chris

    Actually the Brust shot was last year, so 2013.

  • Dr_ZC

    Wiskey has had our number, but mark my words. Michigan wins with a long range three at the buzzer this time.

  • Aceblue71

    Jackson was not happy about not getting the ball back at the end for a wide open 3. Wisconsin might not be as happy together as we think. I think it’s a good time to get them, no pressure with road game, Michigan playing well on O. Sometimes Wisky self checks themselves by running down the clock on O.