On Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers went on the road for a ranked battle against the Michigan Wolverines in Ann Arbor. It would be the second time the teams met after Wisconsin upset the Wolverines in Madison in January to give Michigan its first loss of the season.
Early on, Wisconsin came out with a fast start. Ethan Happ looked unstoppable in the low post and Jon Teske had no answer. The Badgers were able to jump out to an early lead and were in control for a large portion of the first half. But a few threes and plays from Jordan Poole tied things up at 27-27 at halftime.
In the second half, the hard fought game continued. It was physical at every position on the floor and neither offense could get things going. Charles Matthews came up big for the Wolverines on offense and scored 14 of Michigan’s final 17 points before garbage time. Michigan ended up picking up a 61-52 win over Wisconsin.
So, what did we learn?
What We Learned:
1. Charles Matthews may finally have it going again.
By this point, everyone knows about Michigan’s fast start to the season. The Wolverines started the season at 17-0 and destroyed a number of quality opponents during November and December. It was a remarkable run and will likely end up putting Michigan in position for a one or two seed in March, assuming the team keep things together.
But since the calendar turned to 2019, things haven’t been as easy.
Michigan has looked far more inconsistent in recent weeks and the Wolverines have struggled to get things going offensively. A big part of those struggles has been Charles Matthews. Despite a hot start to the season, he hasn’t done much offensively recently. In fact, he failed to score 10 points in four of Michigan’s last six games before Saturday.
However, he may have figured things out on Saturday.
In a hard fought game that was within a possession for large portions, it was Matthews who finally pushed the Wolverines ahead. He connected on a number of mid-range jumpers and was nearly unguardable for a stretch. All told, Matthews ended up with 18 points.
There’s still a long way to go, but if Matthews can play like he did in the second half on Saturday, Michigan could really get things going in the weeks to come.
2. Michigan may very well still be the league’s best team.
Early on this season, Michigan looked like it was easily the best team in the league. However, that changed thanks to some great play from Michigan State and the recent rise of Purdue. All three teams are now firmly in contention for the Big Ten title.
But on Saturday, Michigan made a statement about why fans shouldn’t forget about the Wolverines. The team beat a red hot Wisconsin team at home to improve to 22-2 overall and 11-2 in Big Ten play. The win kept Michigan atop the Big Ten standings and said a lot about the talent and fight of the Wolverines.
Michigan may still end up losing the Big Ten. Michigan State is really talented and Purdue has a pretty manageable schedule moving forward. However, Michigan made a statement about why it might be the best team in the Big Ten.
3. The Badgers need to find more playmakers around Ethan Happ.
This isn’t anything new, but the key issue for the Badgers on Saturday was the team’s inability to produce around Ethan Happ. Despite Happ tearing things up down low in the first half, Wisconsin just couldn’t get enough from its guards and wings to push the team to victory. It’s been one of the bigger issues for this team all season.
Wisconsin isn’t going to face many teams with the defensive skill of Michigan, but if the Badgers want to make a deep run in March, this is the issue the team needs to address. Nate Reuvers had some nice plays and Brad Davison tried to take over in the second half, but neither had enough to get things done.
Greg Gard has a lot of pieces to work with going forward, but Wisconsin needs to find one consistent and productive playmaker around Happ if it hopes to bring home some hardward when all things are said and done.
4. The Badgers still remain in good position, despite the loss.
With recent losses from Michigan and Michigan State over the last few weeks, many Badger fans started to think the team had an outside shot at winning the Big Ten regular season title. After all, Wisconsin was tied with Michigan State in the Big Ten standings heading into Saturday and was only a game behind Michigan and Purdue.
However, Saturday’s loss dropped the Badgers to two games back from Michigan, two losses behind Purdue, and a half-game back from Michigan State. The Badgers still have a pretty manageable slate moving forward, so there’s still a route available, but that door took a hard swing toward closed as a result of Saturday’s loss. Wisconsin now has significant ground to make up and no remaining games against Michigan or Purdue.
Still, it’s hard to feel too disappointed in where this team sits moving forward. Wisconsin sits at 17-7 overall and 9-4 in Big Ten play. The Badgers still have a really good shot at a top seed in the NCAA Tournament and have some talented players like Happ. That’s particularly true with a relatively manageable closing slate.
Saturday was about what you would expect from a game between Michigan and Wisconsin. It was a physical and low scoring affair that came down to the closing minutes. All told, Michigan was able to pull away in the second half thanks to Matthews and separated itself for the moment in the Big Ten title race.
Michigan will now prepare for a road trip to Penn State on Tuesday and Wisconsin will prepare to face Michigan State at home on Tuesday.