Michigan Basketball (16-9, 6-6) will host the Wisconsin Badgers (21-4, 10-2) on Thursday night at Crisler Center. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM (EST) and the game will be televised on ESPN. The resurgent Wolverines are fresh off a rare win at Indiana and are looking to keep their tournament hopes in good standing.
Michigan has lost five straight and 17 of the last 19 games against Wisconsin. They faced similar bad history in their matchup at Indiana and were able to overcome. Can they do it again?
Big Ten’s best
This game will feature two of the Big Ten’s best players in Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and Michigan’s Derrick Walton. Happ averages 14.2 points and ranks second in the Big Ten in steals (2.0). He also ranks third in the conference in rebounds (9.2) and field goal percentage (59.8). Happ is an excellent defender and an all around outstanding player. In conference play he leads the Badgers in points (15.7), rebounds (8.8), assists (2.75), blocks (1.5) and steals (2.5). He is the only player in the nation leading his team in all five categories during conference play.
Derrick Walton has been playing the best basketball of his career. He has scored 20 points or more in five consecutive games. In Big Ten games, he is averaging 17.2 points, which is good for fourth in the conference, 5.5 rebounds, and 3.67 assists. He is shooting 49.2% from the field, 48.3% from three point range and 89.1% from the free throw line. Overall, Walton ranks second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally in free throw percentage (90.6) and he ranks seventh in the Big Ten in three point percentage (44.2).
Wisconsin is hardly a one man show. Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are outstanding players, who are playing at All-Big Ten levels. Although Koenig has struggled a bit as of late. The Badgers play their system as well as any team in the country. They play stifling defense and limit opponents to a Big Ten best 60.4 points per game. The Badgers are also one of the top rebounding teams in the conference.
Michigan’s supporting cast has picked up the pace recently and players like Moe Wagner, DJ Wilson, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and Duncan Robinson are helping the cause. The x-factor for Michigan in this game might be Zak Irvin. In Michigan’s last four games, Irvin has scored a combined 13 points. He is just 10 for his last 47 (21.2%) from beyond the arc. However, he has chipped in with great defense and is second on the team in assists. If Irvin can knock down some shots against Wisconsin, the Wolverines could roll. If he doesn’t, Walton will have to carry a heavy load again.
Rob White: This is obviously a huge game for the surging Wolverines. The team, led by Derrick Walton, definitely gets it and they will be ready to rumble. Look for a sharp offensive performance from Michigan and for them to pull out the victory. Wolverines win 65-60
Jordan Eccleston: Last week, Michigan took major strides towards making the tournament. They pounded Michigan State at home and won their first road game of the season against Indiana. That being said, Michigan has a tricky end to their regular season schedule, as they will play four of their last six away from home, while the two teams they host are arguably the two best in the Big Ten. That all starts tomorrow, when the Wolverines welcome Wisconsin to Ann Arbor. With how Derrick Walton has been playing of late, Michigan has a really good shot of knocking off the conference leader and capturing their best win of the season. However, Wisconsin is coming off a home loss to Northwestern this past Sunday. If Wisconsin had won that game, I think they may have been more ripe for an upset. Now they will be looking to avoid their first losing streak of the season. I see Wisconsin grinding out the win over Michigan, 72-68.
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