January 18, 2014
6:00 PM EST ESPN / ESPN3
Players to Watch
Traevon Jackson - The junior point guard had the best game of his career against Indiana. He logged 21 points, including an explosion in the beginning of the second half that changed the momentum and kept the Badgers in the game. But the man he was guarding, Yogi Ferrell, had an even better game, adding 25 points and seemed to get into the lane on practically every possession. While Wisconsin’s poor half-court defense became a team-wide problem, Jackson was not innocent. On pick-and-rolls, he often struggled getting around the screener, leaving Ferrell with space to operate. Once the Indiana point guard started feeling it, Jackson and the Badgers couldn’t stop him. Throughout his tenure with Wisconsin, Jackson has become a whipping boy for the team’s failures. I do it all the time, because it’s easy - he takes iffy pull-up jumpers and sometimes plays out-of-control. But Jackson should not be solely blamed for Wisconsin’s defensive failures against Indiana.
Michigan has freshman Derrick Walton running the point, who is about the same size as Ferrell and shoots a similar eFG% (Walton - 53.5%, Ferrell - 54.3%). Luckily, Michigan uses Walton significantly less than Indiana uses Ferrell. Walton only shoots on 17.3% of Michigan’s possessions, whereas Ferrell shoots on 29.3% of IU’s possessions. While physically they are similar, the two play very different roles on their perspective teams. Walton has scored in double-figures in his last 3 games, so he’ll have some confidence. It’s Jackson’s job to prevent him from staying hot. If Jackson can keep Walton uncomfortable, the Badgers will be alright.
Frank Kaminsky - Kaminsky should be counting his lucky stars that Mitch McGary is injured for a large portion of this season. McGary would be one of the few big men in the Big Ten that would give Kaminsky a lot of trouble. Kaminsky can beat you in two ways: he’s a legit 7-footer, so he can back down smaller matchups and take command of the painted areas, or because he’s lethal from behind the arc, he can take bigger and less nimble centers out of their element and find wide open shots. With no McGary, Michigan will trot out a combination of Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford. Not only does Kaminsky have a height advantage over those two, but he also will be able to take advantage of open space around the perimeter, just like he did against Nnanna Egwu of Illinois. Both of his Michigan adversaries are heftier, so he won’t have tons of room to operate down low. That has yet to stop his wildly successful season so far. According to KenPom, Kaminsky is 10th in his personal Player of the Year standings, one spot behind Jabari Parker of Duke. That’s insane considering where he came from last year. We all know he doesn’t belong in the same breath as Jabari, but he’s had a great season, and should continue his success against Michigan.
Nik Stauskas- What to say about the Canadian’s rapid improvement from freshman to sophomore year. While Stauskas might not be the vocal leader or the elder statesmen on the team, he is completely in control on the floor. He is much more at ease both driving to the basket and looking for his teammates. Last year’s notion of "just a shooter" has been put to bed, as Stauskas has averaged nearly 18 points, 4 assists and 4 rebounds in 35 minutes per game. Derrick Walton Jr. might be the point guard, but Stauskas gets the offense going and keeps it churning.
The one hole is Stauskas’ game, however, is his defense. Wisconsin starts 3 smallish guards in 6’1 Ben Brust, 6’2 Traevon Jackson and 6’3 Josh Gasser, and it seems likely that Walton Jr. will start on Jackson, Stauskas will guard Brust and Caris LeVert will guard Gasser. While Jackson is the most explosive, both Gasser and Brust love to shoot the 3. Brust has taken 65% of his attempts from behind the arc, and Gasser, who has taken considerably less shots, has taken 47% of his attempts from deep. It’s clear that Wisconsin loves to shoot, and based on Beilein’s switch on ball screen policy, Stauskas will have to guard a smaller, faster player that likes to look for the 3. If Jackson can space the floor and find the shooters, it could be a long afternoon for Michigan. If Michigan can contain the shooters, as all five Wisconsin starters can shoot from deep, it could go a long way to the Wolverines success.
Jordan Morgan/Jon Horford- Barring a severe injury or too much cheese in a pregame meal, it seems incredibly likely that Horford and Morgan will be splitting the 40 minutes at the 5 position. Because of the two-headed monster at center, Beilein will play it by feel as to who will play the majority of the minutes. Horford and Morgan have each had excellent individual games (Horford against Minnesota, Morgan against Nebraska), and put together a great collective effort against Penn State and Northwestern. With that being said, the four aforementioned teams are near or at the bottom of the conference. You can’t criticize them for putting up great numbers against mediocre competition, but with the first massive test of the conference season tomorrow, it will interesting to see how they hold up. Horford is a redshirt Junior and Morgan is a Graduate Student, so they clearly have experience between them.
The key for both players is to take advantage of a weaker Wisconsin frontline. Sam Dekker and Glenn Robinson III will likely be matched up all afternoon unless Nigel Hayes is in the game, and other than Frank Kaminsky and his "Frank the Tank" legendary start to the season, Hayes is the only other frontcourt threat. 6’9 Duje Dukan plays primarily on the perimeter, allowing for Horford and Morgan to only have Kaminsky as a legitimate threat on the boards. The numbers I have asked for from Horford and Morgan in conference play are 15 and 10, and through four games they are averaging 17 points and 10.25 rebounds. While points are hard to come by, especially at the Kohl Center, the duo need between 12 and 15 rebounds tomorrow against a small front line.
Wisconsin Perspective by Kevin Dlugos (@_dlugos): Everyone kept waiting on when Wisconsin would take their first loss. Well, at the hands of the Fightin’ Tom Creans, it happened. So Wisconsin is no longer among the ranks of the unbeatens. In my eyes, that’s just fine by me. This takes some of the unnecessary external pressure of this team, and allows them to take another focused look at their game plan. Throughout Bo Ryan’s tenure at Wisconsin, he’s fielded some great offensive and great defensive teams. This year, he has one of the best offensive teams in the country. And while the adages about Wisconsin’s notoriously tough defense are still true, this team isn’t as defensively stingy as it may be perceived. The Indiana loss exposed some truths about their defense. IU came into that game with a habit of turning the ball over, but the Badgers only forced 9 turnovers. In fact, Wisconsin is 297th in the country in Turnover%. Luckily, Derrick Walton is not Yogi Ferrell. They won’t have an aggressive attacking point guard to deal with, but instead they have to deal with Michigan’s great shooters. That’s more up Wisconsin’s alley when it comes to defense. This game would worry me a lot more if Wisconsin beat Indiana, but because of that loss, I like the Badgers in a very close one.
Michigan Perspective by Josh Stern (@jmstern23): This game has all the makings of a trap game for Wisconsin. They just came off their first loss of the season, they’re back at home where Bo Ryan has cast a spell on opposing teams (for further proof, as Ben Brust how many running half court shots he’s made.) Teams have figured out how to exploit Wisconsin, and Michigan is desperate for a big, road win. Minnesota is one thing, winning at the Kohl Center is a different animal. Nik Stauskas needs to have his most effective game of the season, and the Wolverines cannot turn the ball over. Michigan now has an eight man rotation, and no more, and I’m curious to see if Beilein trusts Zak Irvin in a game of this magnitude. I see it being an incredibly close game with Michigan making a few extra plays down the stretch.
Prediction: Michigan 69, Wisconsin 65