Fresh off a hard-fought win over their most hated rival, the third-ranked Michigan Wolverines get back to action on Saturday afternoon as they challenge the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center.
Michigan improved to 21-2 overall and 8-2 in conference by outlasting No. 10 Ohio State this past Tuesday, winning 76-74 in overtime. The Wolverines are tied with both Indiana and Michigan State atop the Big Ten standings, and they'll get a crack at the Spartans next Tuesday when the two teams get together in East Lansing. Michigan has won five of its last six games, and it is 4-2 in true road bouts this season, its two losses coming in its last four bouts away from Ann Arbor.
Wisconsin is playing its eighth game against a ranked opponent (3-4) today, and the team brings a 16-7 overall record into this showdown. More importantly, the Badgers (7-3) are just one game off the pace set by the three clubs occupying the top spot in the conference. UW has won back-to-back games over Illinois (74-68) and Iowa (74-70, double-overtime) on the heels of three losses in its previous four. The Badgers are 12-2 at home this season, and they are an impressive 178-17 in Madison over the last 12 years. Wisconsin has won five of its last six home games against foes ranked in the top-five.
Michigan owns an 87-67 lead in the all-time series with Wisconsin, and the Wolverines won the last meeting in a 59-41 decision at home on Jan. 8, 2012. That win snapped a 10-game losing streak in the series for the Maize and Blue. The Badgers have won 10 straight in the series at home, with the Wolverines' last victory in Madison coming in a 51-39 verdict in 1999.
Michigan's success this season can be directly attributed to the play of its trio of outstanding guards, led by Big Ten Player of the Year candidate Trey Burke. A 48.7 percent shooter overall, who drains nearly 38 percent of his 3- point attempts, Burke is averaging 18.1 ppg (second-best in the conference) while serving as the team's primary playmaker by handing out a league-leading 7.2 apg. Tim Hardaway, Jr. (16.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Nik Stauskas (12.4 ppg .487 3-point FG percentage) provide significant contributions as well, and up front the Wolverines get additional production from forward Glenn Robinson III (11.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg). The team as a whole is netting 77.7 ppg while permitting just 60.2 ppg, giving it the second-best scoring margin in the conference (+17.5). Hardaway, Jr. was high man for Michigan in its big win over Ohio State, as he went 6-of-9 from beyond the arc to finish with 23 points. Burke tallied 16 points and eight assists, while Mitch McGary came off the bench to tack on 14 points and six rebounds. Stauskas (11 points, six boards) combined with Burke to hit seven treys, helping the team go 14-of-24 from distance. Michigan won the game despite shooting a woeful 1-of-7 from the field in the extra session.
No one is going to confuse Wisconsin with any of the top offensive teams in the Big Ten, instead the Badgers earning their keep by playing some of the stingiest defense in the country. The team averages 67.5 ppg and yields only 56.2 ppg, and it also owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+4.6) and turnovers (+2.9). The Badgers boast three double-digit scorers, but none net more than the 11.8 ppg credited to Jared Berggren (6.8 rpg, 45 blocks). Ben Brust (11.0 ppg, 2.7 apg) and Ryan Evans (10.8 ppg, 7.7 rpg) help keep the Badgers on the plus side of the ledger, but it really is the suffocating defensive strategy implemented by head coach Bo Ryan that has the team consistently amid the top teams in the Big Ten. Brust scored a game-high 18 points, Berggren logged a double-double consisting of 16 points and 14 rebounds, and Evans nearly had one of his own with 15 points and nine boards, and every one of those efforts was needed in the recent win over Iowa. The Badgers, who also got 13 points from Traevon Jackson, shot just 33.8 percent from the floor, missing 18 of their 25 3-point tries along the way. Iowa shot exactly the same overall, and was just 5-of-23 from beyond the arc. The two teams combined for 100 rebounds.