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2/16 Big Ten Preview: Another Road Test for Wisconsin

One game marks the Big Ten schedule on Thursday night.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a home loss to Northwestern, Wisconsin hits the road to Ann Arbor. Of course, Michigan is clinging to its tournament hopes, and beating Wisconsin would add a solid win to the resume. Either way, Michigan (winner of two in a row) revitalized its season a bit after destroying Michigan State and beating Indiana and will be looking for its biggest win of the season on Thursday against the Badgers.

Let’s take a deeper look at the only Big Ten game of the night.

Big Ten Game of the Night:

-Wisconsin Badgers at Michigan Wolverines

  • TV/Time: 6:00 PM CT on ESPN
  • Covers Spread: Michigan (-1)

Michigan has struggled with consistency this season. The roster has talent and experience, and when the Wolverines put a game together, it results in what happened against Michigan State.

The offense really hasn’t been a question. Michigan has the eighth most efficient offense in the country (119.5 points per 100 possessions), according to KenPom. As a result, the Wolverines shoot the ball efficiently, and don’t turn it over (both huge keys to beating Wisconsin).

The struggle has been on defense. Now, Michigan and Wisconsin played in Madison not too long ago, and the Badgers trailed late in the second half, before escaping with a 68-64 win. In that particular game, Michigan competed hard on defense.

In particular, Mo Wagner played physically against Ethan Happ. (Wagner fouled out in 29 minutes, though and Mark Donnal just didn’t have the same success.) Now, recently, teams have had success doubling Happ, forcing a pass and others to make plays. Michigan might be OK with Wagner, defending Happ one-on-one and keeping everyone else at home.

Wagner needs to stay out of foul trouble, and John Beilein needs better minutes from Donnal (eight minutes, zero points and three fouls in the first game). Or, Beilein will have to lean on true freshman Jon Teske.

For Michigan, the future of the postseason might be at stake, but, for the Badgers, it’s the Big Ten title. The stagnant offense and a key injury have Wisconsin reeling a bit. Really since the first Michigan game, the Wisconsin offense, while still efficient, hasn’t looked the same.

Happ has carried the team at times, while Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have fought inconsistency. More recently, Hayes has played well, but Koenig’s dealing with a left leg injury. The injury has sapped some of his explosiveness getting to the basket, and it may be impacting his jumper too.

He hurt it during the Penn State game, and since that time, Koenig’s 14-for-55 from the floor. Clearly he’s battling something.

The Badgers’ advantage could be on the glass. For the season, they hold a plus-8.3 rebounding advantage over opponents, good for 11th in the country. The offense will need to operate with better efficiency, particularly playing on the road, but Wisconsin can hang its hat on defense and rebounding.

I’ll grab the point, though I’m not confident. KenPom has Michigan winning by one; the Wolverines have the home advantage, and Michigan has been playing better lately.

Even still, Wisconsin’s won nine road or neutral site games this year, and has a .740 winning percentage over the last four years in such game. (That’s fourth-best in college basketball.)

  • Pick Against the Spread: Wisconsin (+1)