What to watch for: Wisconsin

Dylan Burkhardt

Michigan and Wisconsin will play a rubber match for a Big Ten Tournament championship on Sunday afternoon (3 p.m., CBS). The Wolverines and Badgers played two games to a almost a perfect split with an aggregate score of 128 to 126.

The Big Ten Tournament title will feature the two most experienced teams in the league, but also of two dramatically different teams. The Badgers have the league’s best defense and play inside-out while Michigan leads the league in offensive efficiency and spreads the floor.

1. Post play

Wisconsin is one of the elite post-up offenses not just in the conference, but in the country. The good news is that Michigan has repped its post-up trap and double-team looks quite a bit in the last couple of weeks with two games against Purdue, the bad news is that it is still a significant mismatch overall.

Wisconsin trails Purdue in post-up offense volume, but is just a fraction behind and is just about as efficient as the Boilermakers’ twin towers on the block. Here are the top six post-up offenses (including pass outs) in Division I by volume, per Synergy, with their efficiency measures.

Happ scored 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting in Ann Arbor and the decision to play single or double coverage against the Badger post threat is the most important question. Michigan played mostly single coverage in Madison and Happ went 5-of-13 from the floor. Here’s a look at his shot attempts in the first meeting:

The Wolverines might have had a little irrational confidence from that first meeting and opted to play single coverage to start the second meeting. Happ promptly dropped 18 first half on 8-of-9 shooting and forced the Wolverines to adjust. A reminder of how that looked:

A more aggressive double-team worked in the second half as Happ recorded more turnovers (3) than made field goals (2) in the second and Michigan held the Badgers to 2-of-18 shooting to close the game. The key for the Wolverines doubling is to try to speed the Badgers up and create some turnovers in passing lanes that can lead to offense, an example:

Michigan’s post defense scheme is the single most important element to this game and the answer is probably changing looks as often as possible to try to keep the Badgers off balance.

2. Big Ten’s best defense 

Wisconsin has the best defense in the Big Ten and it’s a defensive system that has slowed down John Beilein’s offense more consistently than any other.

The Wolverines managed just a shade over a point per possession in both of their games against the Badgers. 64 points on 63 possessions in the first meeting and 64 points on 62 possessions in the second. That’s basically the floor for this Michigan offense — and a really impressive floor at that — but it is a reminder that it’s just really hard for Michigan to manufacture points against the Badgers.

The Wisconsin defense is so effective because it forces you out of your comfort zone. Teams run offense designed to get the shots that they want, but usually end up taking the shots that Wisconsin wants. Generally that’s a mid-range jumper or tough isolation plays. How tough is it to create easy offense versus Wisconsin? Northwestern recorded just one assist in the first 32 minutes of clock time on Saturday.

Zak Irvin has been Michigan’s best offensive threat against the Badgers this year (38 points on 15-of-28 fg, 4-7 3pt shooting) and that speaks to the kind of offensive looks that you have to finish against the Badgers. Irvin has been playing well in D.C. and the Wolverines will need his mid-range jumper to be calibrated and ready to go.

3. Rest advantage

Bronson Koenig has played 63 minutes this week, Derrick Walton has played 117. Irvin has racked up 119 minutes himself and will be banging against the bigger, stronger Nigel Hayes who has only clocked 57.

Michigan not only was in a plane accident on Wednesday, they’ve played an extra game and more competitive games. Wisconsin has only played twice and drilled Northwestern by 28 points which allowed it to not play a single starter more than 33 minutes on Saturday.

Rest isn’t everything and Michigan players have mastered the company line that fatigue is 50% physical and 50% mental, but it is still a distinct advantage for the Badgers.

“We know they’re playing hard, playing inspired, playing well right now. If they’re going to be a little tired, we’ll definitely take it,” Nigel Hayes said on Saturday. “We don’t want to run around like spring chickens or anything like that.”

4. Surging offense

I wrote in the Minnesota recap that Michigan had the most to prove in Washington D.C., but Wisconsin could make a case as well. It’s easy to forget, but Wisconsin was 10-1 and a legitimate Big Ten title contender at 10-1. Then the Badgers lost 5 of their final 7 games as the offense basically ground to a halt.

Late in the year, Wisconsin’s offense was almost as bad as Michigan’s defense was early in the year. Wisconsin had a 7-game streak with an eFG% under 50% and Bronson Koenig missed time (including the game in Ann Arbor) with a leg injury.

The Badgers have figured things out in D.C., churning through a pair of victories while scoring 1.19 points per possession. Three-pointers are falling (22-of-51 over two games) and even Ethan Happ is hitting free throws (8-off-11 vs. Northwestern).

Seven different Wisconsin players made a three on Saturday afternoon and four starters made two each which is world’s away from the Wisconsin team that made just 3-of-16 triples in Ann Arbor.

5. Matchups

While Irvin has excelled against Wisconsin, DJ Wilson has struggled mightily. Wilson totaled 2 points and 7 rebounds  in two games against the Badgers. On the other hand, Moritz Wagner had a 21 point performance in Ann Arbor, proving that he can score against Happ, one of the best defenders in the league, on 8-of-14 (3-6 3pt) shooting.

No one is playing better basketball than Derrick Walton in the Big Ten right now, but he only scored 5 points on 1-of-8 shooting in the last meeting while handing out 8 assists. He’ll have to face Wisconsin’s perimeter defensive specialist in Zak Showalter.

“Showalter is an elite defender,” Beilein said after the last meeting. “I don’t care who he gets put on — he shuts off your water. Derrick, he had some good looks a couple of times. He didn’t get many, and then all of a sudden, he found the right people.”

Bottom Line

KenPom projects a narrow 63-62 Wisconsin victory, giving the Wolverines a 47% chance at winning their first Big Ten Tournament since 1998.

  • bobohle

    Beilein said in his post presser that there isn’t much difference from one team playing four games and one playing three games. They trust Sanderson and company will have them ready. IMO Michigan on a roll winning 9 of 11 will be tough to stop especially when they really want this championship. Not today/not tomorrow will Michigan be denied.

  • Stephen Chang

    Wisconsin no doubt will be very solid on the defensive end, will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense counters that for both halfs on Sunday. Will also like to see Michigan double team Happ again, he gets easily frustrated when that happens

    • ChathaM

      I agree that doubling Happ is the way to go. It’s what we’ve been doing a lot of lately, and rotations to shooters should come naturally. It should also help us avoid foul trouble. Wisky will be completely prepared for that, and I’d be comfortable putting our rotations up against their ball movement. If they can move the ball out of the double and consistently get, and make, good shots, then I can live with it. I wonder whether doubling Hayes on post touches would be a good idea. I’d be tempted to put DJ on him, as I think a locked in DJ alone could be tough on Hayes.

      I think that Wisky’s defence matches up pretty well with us. They don’t have a big plodder that we can easily exploit, as Happ, Hayes, and Brown are all capable of extending their defence, and of switching onto smaller players, if necessary. I really don’t like the matchup for us, but the way we’re playing, we can play with anyone. Wish I were there, and very envious of you guys who were able to make the trip.

      • Stephen Chang

        Hayes is no doubt a problem as well, he can drive and dunk but his weakness is making FT, it is terrible. I think it is better to double Happ because when he is been guarded one on one, he is more dangerous. I can live with not doubling Hayes, he is going to get his baskets, I would put DJ on him if I am Beilein. If Michigan has the ball, they will need to make good shot selections and get on the glass. It is also important that Wagner stays out of foul trouble, if he has only one foul heading into the second half, I will be happy with it. I wish I was at the game too, but I will be watching them play on TV like always.

  • Nick

    I completely understand the focus on stopping Happ, but Koening is going to be a problem. IMO, Wisco is so much better on offense when they’re running things through Koening instead of throwing into post right away. Michigan is gonna have its hands full.

  • Jeremiah Tyson

    Key players for a UM victory in order are as follows:

    1. Derrick Walton – because IMO he’s the best PG in the B1G. He doesn’t need another 29, but he needs to be on the floor a lot. He’s going to need dribble penetration and efficiency because Wisconsin is so stout defensively.

    2. Moritz Wagner – He is the biggest mismatch the wolverines have because he can score from anywhere. He also has great feet on defense. But his propensity for foul trouble is concerning. He’s another one that needs to be on the floor a lot. Probably 35 min.

    3. Zak Irvin – he’s had a good tourney so far, and it couldn’t come at a better time. He had been ice cold for months it seems, but has picked it up. He is loose with the ball and tends to be a turnover risk when he over dribbles, but his ability to hit the mid-range jumper at a high percentage is critical for breaking down Wisconsin’s defense.

    Wisconsin does not have great offense in general, not that crazy things don’t happen, but I don’t expect them to run away from Michigan if the wolverines stall at times, but their defense is so good, that an 8 to 10 point lead for Wisconsin is like 16 to 20 against other teams. It’s a tall task yet again for Michigan, but hoping they can take one more! Go Blue!

    • JMD

      I’ll have to disagree that Wagner “has great feet on defense”. Mo has got a long way to go on D. But it’s tolerable because he can put points on the board in a hurry.

  • rlcBlue

    So after all these games played, I still have no regrets over our getting Walton rather than Morris; as great as the other guy has been, I like our guy, not least because he wanted to play for Michigan. I wonder if I’ll be having the same retrospective feeling about Simpson and Winston three years from now.

    • bobohle

      I hope so.

  • ChipperFliet

    Nice work Dylan. That’s all I got. Go Blue

  • Wayman Britt

    I think Showalter is too good of an defender for DW to have another big game. UW will slow him down. Since most of the starters have logged a lot of minutes, let’s hope X and Donnal can each make 6 points to help in the effort.

    • malcolm bolt

      I like MAAR and X going for dribble drives, forcing UW to react or foul. MAAR can score, X can kick out, drop off pass, or get to the ft line, but needs to convert.

  • Fab 5 Legends

    We are the most dangerous team in the country…Seniors playing up to their potential…we are going to win it all…and prove we are the best BigTen team! We are a team playing with such confidence/poise right now – everyone contributing, Go Blue!

  • A2MIKE

    Bit nervous today. Would have much rather faced northwestern. I hope that we can sprint to an early lead and then hold on.