Game 17: Michigan at Wisconsin Preview

Basics
Who: Michigan (12-4, 4-0) at No. 3 Wisconsin (16-1, 3-1) bucky[1]
Where: Kohl Center (Madison, WI)
When: 6:00 p.m., Saturday, January 18th, 2014
TV: ESPN
Radio: MGoBlue, 950 AM, 102.9 FM, 91 Sirius/XM
More: First Look

Now is the time that Michigan is supposed to fail. The Wolverines are undefeated without Mitch McGary, but they’ve yet to overachieve. Winning the games that were expected is great, but they need a bigger challenge.

Michigan beat Stanford, won at Minnesota, squeaked by Nebraska on the road, and beat Northwestern and Penn State comfortably at home. But the Wolverines still haven’t beaten a great team without their 6-foot-10, 255 pound sophomore in the lineup. The losses at Duke, Iowa State and home against Arizona (with McGary) are opportunities that have slipped away. They’ve shown signs of being a good team, but its put up or shut up time for John Beilein’s group with seven of the next ten games against teams ranked in the Ken Pomeroy top-10.

A win at Madison, something the Michigan program hasn’t accomplished since 1999, would be a statement: The Wolverines are a contender in the Big Ten. A loss would be far from crippling, but it would be yet another missed opportunity.

The Badgers

Wisconsin’s offense is terrific. The Badgers lost their first game at Indiana on Tuesday, but that loss fell on their defense. Wisconsin has the best offense in the Big Ten, scoring 1.20 points per possession, and is ranked fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency.

Bo Ryan’s recipe for offensive success hasn’t deviated much: slow tempo, swing offense, great shooting, high volume of three-pointers, very few turnovers and not much attention to the offensive glass. Statistically, the Badgers look nearly identical to Michigan. They get there in a different way.

Bo Ryan still runs his basic swing-offense, 4-out, 1-in, heavy on post-ups and and the 338th longest offensive possessions in the country. The Badgers shoots 53% on twos (35th) and 39% on threes (31st) for the 11th best effective field goal percentage in the country, 55.2%. Mcihgian is the only team in the conference shooting better than Wisconsin this year. The Badgers are one of six teams to turn the ball over on a lower percentage of their possessions than Michigan at 12.9%. But the Badgers don’t make a big impact on the offensive glass, rebound just 30.2% of their misses (216th), and attempt 40.7 free throws per 100 FGAs (170th).

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Defensively, Wisconsin’s tempo-free statistics are solid. The Badgers are ranked 24th in adjusted defensive efficiency, but have allowed 1.00 points per possession in the Big Ten (4th in the conference).

Wisconsin’s defensive identity is crystal clear: great shooting defense without fouling. It’s nearly impossible to shoot threes against Wisconsin. Wisconsin opponents attempt just 25% of their field goals from 3-point range (the ninth fewest in the country) and they are shooting just 31%. Big Ten opponents are shooting just 27% from long range.

The Badgers defense does have its weaknesses. Wisconsin forces fewer turnovers than any team in the conference and has struggled on the defensive glass. Big Ten opponents are rebounding 37.2% of their missed shots, meaning the Badgers are the second worst defensive rebounding group in the league. That claim should come with a disclaimer because Wisconsin has faced three of the four best offensive rebounding teams in the league. On the other hand, Michigan has faced three of the four worst defensive rebounding teams and has failed to make an offensive rebounding impact.

Personnel

Four Wisconsin players average between 11 and 14 points, but any scouting report has to start with 6-foot-7 forward Sam Dekker. Dekker is a projected first round pick and one of the more versatile players in the country. Dekker is Wisconsin’s primary transition threat, he can face up, post-up, shoot off screens, and finish at the rim. He’s the best offensive rebounder on the Badger roster and shoots 59% on twos and 35% on threes.

Wisconsin’s three backcourt starters are 6-foot-3 or shorter. Senior guard Ben Brust leads the way at 13 points per game while point guard Traevon Jackson averages 11.4 points and 4.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists per contests. Glue guy Josh Gasser is back in the lineup as well, returning from an Achilles’ injury which ended his season last year. All three players shoot at least 37% from 3-point range but Brust is the primary threat as 65% of his field goal attempts are from long range.

7-footer Frank Kaminsky has emerged from forgotten backup to offensive star. Kaminsky is the second most efficient player in the Big Ten that uses at least 20% of his team’s offensive possessions, trailing only Nik Stauskas. Kaminsky shoots 60% on twos and 48% on threes and had a 43 point effort earlier this season. He’s one of the best post-up scorers in the country,  scoring 1.235 points per possession (95th percentile).

Kaminsky gets frontcourt support from freshman big man Nigel Hayes. Hayes started slow, but he’s been a different player of late, evident in this table published by Luke Winn.

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The Badgers give just 21.3% of available minutes to bench players (338th nationally) and backup guard Bronson Koenig is the other notable rotation player. Koenig is capable attacking the basket, but is one of the few Badgers that isn’t a great three-point shooter.

Keys

  • Attack the rim: Indiana had great success attacking the rim and the Badgers are most susceptible to isolation and ball screen drives. Caris LeVert and Nik Stauskas will be called upon to get into the teeth of Wisconsin’s defense and make things happen. both players should have a height advantage going against 6-foot-1 Ben Brust and 6-foot-3 Josh Gasser.
  • Defend post-ups: Wisconsin scores 1.126 points per post-up, including passes, a stat that ranks in the 98th percentile nationally. The Badgers are capable of playing out of the post in a way that it’s not always the post guy that will beat you, but the next pass. Wisconsin posts its bigs, its guards and its wings, meaning some of Michigan’s more slender guards will have their work cutout for them.
  • Get easy baskets in transition: Michigan’s offense thrives in the secondary break – especially with kick out threes – and finding those opportunities will be critical against a Badger defense that has dominated Michigan for much of the last 10 years. The Wolverines aren’t likely to force many turnovers so the key will be strong defensive rebounding and great outlet passes to start the break.
  • Win the three-point battle: Michigan is going to take its fair share of threes and as well as Wisconsin defends them, the Wolverines are going to need to hit their fair share to pull off the upset. On the other hand, defending the three will be critical. Michigan has done okay against the three this year but Wisconsin thrives by shooting far more triples than its opponents.

Bottom Line

According to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, this game is the least-likely victory on the schedule. Stealing a win would catapult the Wolverines into contention, but a loss would be manageable with many quality win opportunities on the schedule in the next month. Pomeroy projects a 71-63 Wisconsin victory, giving the Wolverines a 22% chance at the upset.

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