It’s been a few weeks since Mitch McGary has played in a game for the Michigan basketball team, but the Wolverines haven’t missed a stride in that time. In fact, the last time the big man played was also the last time Michigan lost, at home to No. 1 Arizona. In the six games since, the Wolverines are 6-0 and improved their record to 12-4, 4-0 in the Big Ten.
Up next is arguably one of the toughest tests the young Michigan team will face this season in Big Ten foe Wisconsin. Despite having just lost at Indiana this week, Wisconsin still remains one of the best teams in the Big Ten and in the country. Michigan always seems to underperform against Wisconsin, including in last season’s Big Ten Tournament. If the Wolverines hope to beat the Badgers on the road, they will need to play one heck of a basketball game. Tune in to watch the game Saturday at 6 p.m. on ESPN.
Here are some things Michigan will need to do to win:
Shoot the ball well
Wisconsin basketball teams are known for great defense and slowing down the pace of the game. Michigan’s offense is reliant on fast-break opportunities and three-pointers. You could see how this will turn into a problem for one team or the other. In Wisconsin’s loss to Indiana, the Hoosiers shot over 50 percent on their way to a narrow win over the No. 3 team in the country. Michigan will need to do the same, and get production out of a lot of guys.
Players like Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Derrick Walton have played really well in the Big Ten, but the Wolverines will need some points from some other guys. After getting off to a hot start this season, Caris LeVert has remained relatively quiet. I think if he has a big game, it really helps Michigan’s chances in this game. Another guy that hasn’t done much of late is the freshman Zak Irvin. His three-point shooting ability can be an x-factor in a game where points could come at a premium (Michigan scored just 59 points last season against the Badgers).
Jordan Morgan and Jon Horford
Ever since McGary’s injury, these guys have stepped up in a big way to help this team. Despite losing arguably Michigan’s best player, Morgan and Horford have shared minutes and played great.
It’s been really good to see Morgan play well again, especially after last season. His presence brings a much-needed defensive upgrade to the floor, in addition to his ability to finish well around the basket. That wasn’t the case last season, (see Indiana loss at home) so having him back to his old self is a big lift for the team. Morgan’s 15 points against Nebraska turned out to be huge in a one-point win on the road.
Horford has always had the skills to be a good player, but injuries have always held him back. So far this season, health hasn’t been a concern and he has thrived in McGary’s absence. He’s been in double figures in scoring in three games, including narrowly missing a double-double against Minnesota.
All Michigan needs out of their two big men against Wisconsin is to continue their solid play. Nothing more, nothing less.
Don’t play their game
Like I said before, Wisconsin seems to always force their opponents to play into their style of basketball. When I watched the game against them last year, it was like watching a different Wolverines’ team. Michigan needs to run the floor and control their offense, or it will be another long game for them. Michigan’s offense is nearly unstoppable when they get into the open floor, especially with guys like GR3 and Stauskas finishing at the basket.
Both teams like to shoot the three, and whoever shoots it better on Saturday will have an edge. Wisconsin made just 7 out of 23 against Indiana in their first loss of the season. The defensive effort for Michigan has to be better than ever in this game.
I see this game being really close. Wisconsin will be eager to get a win after dropping their first game earlier this week to an inferior opponent. Michigan is better than Indiana, but the Badgers will be ready for them. Ultimately, I think it comes down to which team shoots the ball better.
If Michigan gets hot and starts making threes regularly, they will win 65-61. However, if Wisconsin rebounds from their previous game, they’ll come out on top 71-63.
I give a slight edge to Wisconsin simply because they are at home and are desperate to bounce back.
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