|Michigan at Wisconsin
Sunday, Feb. 28 | Madison, Wis. | 6 p.m. ET | Big Ten Network
|Line: Wisconsin -5.5
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|Caris LeVert (16.5), Derrick Walton (12.3)
||Nigel Hayes (16.4), Bronson Koenig (13.5)
|Derick Walton (5.7), Caris LeVert (5.3)
||Ethan Happ (7.9), Nigel Hayes (5.6)
Michigan picked up the all-important 20th win with a comeback victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night. While that may be enough to earn an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, one more win would like make the Wolverines a lock on Selection Sunday. This afternoon, Michigan travels to Madison to battle a rising Wisconsin squad that also sits on the bubble.
Wisconsin is 18-10 overall and 10-5 in Big Ten play, but has surged over the past month, winning nine of their last 10. The only setback since Jan. 12 was a 69-57 loss at No. 8 Michigan State last week, and the Badgers have beaten Michigan State, No. 19 Indiana, No. 2 Maryland, and No. 8 Iowa during that span. They’ve gone from a team reeling from losing its hall of fame coach midway through the season to a team that could make some noise in the Big Ten Tournament and Big Dance.
Junior forward Nigel Hayes (6-foot-8, 240) is the leading scorer, averaging 16.4 points per game and also leads the team with 3.1 assists per game. He ranks second with 5.6 rebounds. He has been held below 10 points just three times all season — most recently in the loss to Michigan State in which he shot 1-of-13 from the field — but has scored 20 or more four times in Big Ten play. Hayes scored 10 and 11 points in the two matchups with Michigan last season on 7-of-19 shooting.
Junior guard Bronson Koenig (6-foot-4, 193) averages 13.5 points, 2.3 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game while shooting 40.2 percent from three-point range and 40.1 percent overall. He’s pretty consistent with 11, 13, 12, 16, 12, 14, and 15 points in his last seven games and he has made three three-pointers in five of those. He scored 13 and 12 against Michigan last season.
Redshirt freshman forward Ethan Happ (6-foot-9, 235) leads the team and ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 7.9 rebounds per game, while averaging 11.9 points. Unlike Koenig, he has been up and down in Big Ten play with games of 20 and 25 points against Penn State and Indiana, followed by six, 12, two, and four, then 18 against Michigan State and 20 against Illinois, and most recently, just five against Iowa.
Junior forward Vitto Brown (6-foot-8, 230) is the team’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging 9.2 points and third-leading rebounder, averaging 5.2 rebounds per game. He has scored in double figures just three times in Big Ten play, all in a three-game span against Ohio State (12 points), Nebraska (18), and Maryland (21). Aside from a zero-point performance in the first meeting with Maryland, Brown has been between four and nine points in every other game.
The fifth starter is redshirt junior guard Zak Showalter (6-foot-2, 184), who averages 7.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. He’s the team’s second-best three-point shooter at 37.0 percent, but a better shooter from the field at 42.7 percent. He has a season high of 21 points against Rutgers on Jan. 2, but has managed double figures just twice since then.
Redshirt sophomore guard Jordan Hill (6-foot-3, 178) is the only other Badger who has started a game this season (one) and averages just 3.3 points per game. He has a season high of 13 points in Wisconsin’s overtime win over Indiana, and also scored nine points in the win at Iowa on Wednesday.
Freshman wing Khalil Iverson (6-foot-5, 205), freshman forward Charlie Thomas (6-foot-8, 253), and freshman forward Alex Illikainen (6-foot-9, 220) are the other reserves, averaging 2.8, 2.8, and 2.7 points, respectively. They’re also the only other players off the bench to average double-digit minutes per game.
This year’s Wisconsin team is a far cry from the team that took Duke to the brink of the national title last April. Bo Ryan returned midway through the season as the Badgers were just 7-5, leaving assistant Greg Gard to try to turn things around. And while he lost four of his first five Big Ten games, he has the Badgers playing as well as anyone in the conference heading into March.
Wisconsin ranks 12th in the Big Ten in points per game (69.1), 10th in field goal percentage (43.1 percent), eighth in three-point percentage (35.8), and 10th in free throw percentage (70.7). Defensively, they rank second in points allowed per game (64.3) and eighth in field goal percentage defense (42.4), but dead last against the three (38.2 percent). That’s good news for a Michigan team struggling to shoot the three-ball the past few games.
Michigan has had trouble winning in Madison, dropping 11 of their last 12 trips to the Kohl Center. Expect a hard-fought, back-and-forth game that Michigan could win if its hits its threes. That could be said about every Michigan game, of course, but given the Wolverines’ recent slump don’t expect it to happen tonight. Another close loss leads to a week off before hosting Iowa to close regular season play next Saturday.