By the Numbers:
February 16, 2014 - Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, MI
1:00 ET - CBS
This is the first time since early January where Wisconsin fans can say with a straight face that this team is rolling. They skated by Michigan State with a flick of Traevon Jackson's left wrist, and handled the rival Minnesota Gophers with a newly rejuvenated offensive effort. Ben Brust is finally out of his shooting slump, and the entire front court has taken a page out of Nigel Hayes' book, and is playing with an unforeseen vigor. The last time Wisconsin was as hot as they are now, their defense let them down against Indiana, as Yogi Ferrell slashed through the lane for 25 points. Facing the potent Michigan backcourt could cause similar problems.
After beating the rival Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus, Michigan hopes to carry that same momentum through to today's affair. Freshman point guard Derrick Walton Jr. had one of the best games of his young career, putting up 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists, while never letting Aaron Craft get comfortable. Right now, Joe Lunardi has Michigan projected to land as a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and locking up a season-sweep of Wisconsin will only help their case for good seeding.
Projected Starting Lineups:
|Derrick Walton Jr.||G||Traevon Jackson|
|Caris LeVert||G||Ben Brust|
|Nik Stauskas||G||Josh Gasser|
|Glenn Robinson III||F||Sam Dekker|
|Jordan Morgan||F/C||Frank Kaminsky|
Wisconsin Players to Watch:
Traevon Jackson: Jackson always has rocky patches throughout the season - you just have to learn to love them. Recently, Jackson has played remarkably under control. He hasn't put up big numbers, but has made plays when it counts. While he turned the ball over a lot during the Michigan State game, his shot selection has been much improved. He's picking his spots offensively, and cut down on his erratic jumpeers. In the previous matchup against Michigan, Jackson was 3-11, which stagnated the Wisconsin offense. If he can handle Walton Jr.'s defense, Wisconsin will be in good shape offensively. In addition, this game will definitely be close in the end. If it comes down to it, Jackson will be called upon to take the last shot. It worked out against the Spartans, and I'm inclined to trust Jackson at the last second.
Nigel Hayes: Yep, he's 100% perfect. Since the previous Michigan game, Hayes has seen his minutes dramatically increase. In the earlier Michigan game, their frontcourt of Morgan and Horford made life very difficult for Wisconsin down low. But those two will be facing a new Hayes. He only took 4 shots against the Wolverines, and for him to make a notable impact in this game, he's going to need to take more. It will come down to if he can keep making those mid-ranges. The one flaw in Hayes' game is his rebounding - he's only averaging 2.7 boards a game. His amazing offense has masked his poor rebounding, but Michigan's big men can rebound. Morgan and Horford combined for 15 rebounds in January. He'll need to battle with them for those boards if the Badgers want to win.
Michigan Players to Watch:
Nik Stauskas: Too many times this season, it feels as though Stauskas hides within the Michigan offense. He is often too stagnant and does not work hard enough on offense to get up enough shots. That being said, when he does touch the ball, he is awfully efficient, averaging nearly 17 points per game in increasingly limited shot attempts. Stauskas plays especially well at home, and a 15-point outing at Ohio State should give him a ton of confidence for an incredibly important game against Wisconsin. Look to see Ben Brust or Josh Gasser guarding him at the early stages, which should give Stauskas a chance to look for his shot early and often against mediocre defenders.
Derrick Walton Jr.: All season, analysts and Michigan fans realized there was a huge void to fill by the departing Trey Burke. Burke was "Mr. Do Everything" for Michigan last year, and for those that watched the Ohio State game, Walton was the same for the Wolverines. He had a timely basket and foul to help extend the lead with a few minutes to go, but his most impressive stat was his 10 rebounds (9 defensive). At 6'0, Walton will not be called upon to grab 10 rebounds a game, but the combination of Michigan's bigs boxing out and Walton attacking the defensive boards made for one of the most impressive rebounding games of the season for the Wolverines. Against a very talented Wisconsin backcourt, Walton will not be able to put up his near triple-double numbers (13 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists), but if he could score in double figures and hand out about 5 assists, it would go a long way to helping Stauskas and LeVert on the offensive end.
Wisconsin Perspective by Kevin Dlugos (@_dlugos):
Wisconsin has solidified themselves as at the very least a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But they can jump up with wins against notable teams like Michigan. For them to win, they'll need to keep up the defensive effort from the Minnesota game. Even though the Gophers scored 70 points, the Badgers never let Minnesota's guards breathe. For Wisconsin to stop LeVert and Stauskas and Robinson III, they can't be lackadaisical on screens. If you give those guards room to operate off a screen, they'll knock down the shot - they did that all game long earlier in the season against the Badgers. But the Badgers won't win without an aggressive Dekker. Against Minnesota, Dekker looked like a new man. He attacked the hoop, drew fouls, and forced their defense to focus on him. If he's passive and doesn't make things happen for himself, Wisconsin will struggle. Even though Wisconsin is in a much better position than they were earlier in the year against Michigan, I can't see them going into Ann Arbor and sneaking out a win. Prediction: Michigan 67, Wisconsin 61.
Michigan Perspective by Josh Stern (@jmstern23):
With Michigan's loss at Wisconsin last Saturday, the B1G has once again become Michigan's title to lose. Four of the final six games are at home, and every game will be a very difficult test, starting with the Badgers. The big key will be the matchup between Glenn Robinson III and Nigel Hayes. While Hayes does not start, he has become the Badgers' most effective offensive weapon, and is an absolute force from the free throw line and in. Robinson is finally getting his groove back and is a much more athletic player than Hayes, so he must contain Hayes' looks. I'm also curious to see how Michigan's bigs play in this game. Frank Kaminsky is the only real "center" on the roster, and both Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan had very solid games during the first matchup in Madison. The key x-factor, however, is Nik Stauskas. Teams who have beaten Michigan recently know that a huge key to beating Michigan is to take Stauskas out of the game as much as possible, and if the Badgers can do that, it will give them a decent chance to win. However, I think that Stauskas and Caris LeVert will be able to take advantage of Wisconsin's smaller guards, and Horford and Morgan will play extremely well and dominate the boards. Prediction: Michigan 78, Wisconsin 65.