For those who watched Michigan basketball's tough loss on Thursday night, rebounding with another tough game against Wisconsin at Crisler Arena. This is probably one of the biggest home games of this season and may prove to be a turning point for the team. Losing to #12 Indiana in Bloomington isn't exactly a horrible loss considering former #1 Kentucky and former #2 Ohio State both lost in the same place, but losing momentum is something Michigan cannot afford to do right now.
The team had won 7 games in a row heading into the Indiana game and should not be discouraged. Losing an extremely tough road game by 2 points isn't exactly pathetic. I mean it's not as if anybody thought the Wolverines were going to head into the tournament undefeated. However, regaining the swagger the team has carried for much of this year and it's ability to perform in "crunch time" is crucial. I'm sure most people remember the 3 point buzzer-beater from Wisconsin last season to beat Michigan. Outperforming Wisconsin in those tight moments is what will decide this game.
Both Michigan and Wisconsin are great shooting teams. Michigan is also averaging 48.1% (36th) and Wisconsin is averaging 44.3% (149th) of their field goals. Those are some impressive numbers, but both teams are also pretty good from 3-point range. Michigan is averaging 36.9% from beyond the arc and Wisconsin is averaging 37.4%. This obviously shows that preventing easy shots is going to be vital because if players are left open to shoot, that team is probably going to be pretty likely to win.
However, there are some differences in scoring. Michigan is currently averaging 70.9 points per game (130th), while Wisconsin is averaging just 67.2 points per game (201st). Now, this does seem to imply that Michigan's offense is better, but there are some differences. Wisconsin is a better rebounding team as they average 2.1 more rebounds per game and 0.9 more offensive rebounds per game, which are very important from the offensive side.
Wisconsin's rebounding gives it an advantage, but Michigan's ability to shoot the ball and increased ability to spread the ball around gives it the advantage on the offensive side. Michigan is currently averaging 14.5 assists per game (73rd), while Wisconsin is averaging 12.5 (208th). Two assists more per game may not sound like much, but Michigan has more players who can score quickly than Wisconsin and the Hardaway-Burke duo is better than the Taylor-Bergeren duo.
Typically, Michigan's defense is a significant advantage for the team, however, in this case, Wisconsin probably has the better defense. Not only do they allow 13.5 points less than Michigan per game, but they also only allow opponents to convert on 34.9% of their shots, more than 6% less than Michigan allows on average. This is a significant advantage because the teams are much less likely to score on Wisconsin than Michigan and when they do, they score less.
Along with their significant advantage in points allowed, Wisconsin also allows 9.7% less 3-pointers than Michigan. Essentially, the team's perimeter defense is fantastic. They are actually one of the best teams in the nation at defending from beyond the arc. Plus, as I stated earlier, Wisconsin is better at rebounding the ball than Michigan, which helps to minimize the number of possessions for the opposing team.
Defenses and offenses of the two teams may differ, but both are coming off of heart-breaking losses against solid Big Ten foes. Wisconsin lost in overtime at home against Michigan State and Michigan lost close at Indiana. MSU and Indiana have shown to be pretty good teams this year so neither loss is devastating, but I expect both teams to come out with a sense of desperation in a game that may feel as if it's from March rather than January.
However, the difference lies in the team's late-game play. Wisconsin was outscored in both the 2nd half and during overtime against Michigan State. However, Michigan outscored Indiana during the 2nd half and had a great run near the end of the game. Both losses were heart-breaking for both teams, but Michigan was playing better at the end of the game than Wisconsin.
Along with this, Michigan is going to have a very active crowd in Crisler Arena (I refuse to call it Center). Not only is this game a MAIZE OUT, there will also be a "Jort Out" (Please tweet #Jortout). The "Jort Out" will feature the students dressing up in their shortest jean shorts they can find, which should make for a great atmosphere. Crisler is coming off of two straight sell-outs and I anticipate another one on Sunday.
This should be a great game that goes back and forth for much of the day. Vegas has Wisconsin favored but this game is essentially dead-locked. The home-court advantage is pretty significant and Michigan has been undefeated at home this year, but let's be honest, Michigan hasn't faced anybody at home yet. If Michigan can get off to a fast start I anticipate a victory, but if they start slow, it could be a rough time for the Wolverines because making up big deficits will be difficult considering Wisconsin's great defense, especially from outside the arc.
Unfortunately, I think Wisconsin is going to be able to minimize Michigan's 3-point shooting, which will give them a significant advantage over the Wolverines. The crowd and atmosphere will be great, but I'm predicting Michigan will fall at home for the first time this year.
Prediction: Wisconsin 70-65