The Badgers are big, the Wolverines are quick and much is on the line Saturday.
By JESSE TEMPLEFS Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. — Jared Berggren emerged from a training room following Thursday's practice, bags of ice wrapped around both knees and his right wrist. He had played 43 minutes the night before during
Wisconsin's 74-70 double overtime victory against Iowa, and the aftereffects of all that activity were lingering.
"I just fell on it a couple times," Berggren said of his wrist. "It's nothing serious at all. You get knocked down a few times. You get a little banged and battered."
Life in the Big Ten is tough enough without playing two overtimes. And it certainly won't get any easier for Berggren and Wisconsin (16-7, 7-3 in the Big Ten) when it plays host to No. 3 Michigan (21-2, 8-2) at 11 a.m. CT Saturday inside the Kohl Center.
The Wolverines are one of the most complete teams in the country, and they'll be looking to push the pace with a backcourt considered by most to be the best in college basketball. Sophomore point guard Trey Burke (18.1 points per game) and junior off-guard Tim Hardaway Jr. (16.0 points) are the team's two leading scorers and rarely are stopped in the same game.
Hardaway Jr. scored 23 points and made six 3-pointers to push Michigan past Ohio State, 76-74, in overtime on Tuesday. He has increased his 3-point shooting accuracy from 28.3 percent a year ago to 43.1 percent this season.
Burke, meanwhile, is considered a first-round lock in the upcoming NBA Draft. He ranks seventh nationally in assists per game (7.2) and has an assists-to-turnovers ratio of 3.8 this season.
"He reads things so well,"
Badgers associate head coach Greg Gard said. "He sees the floor. We always talk about trying to funnel guys towards traffic and make them have to throw it across court, across their body and I've seen him do it. He does stuff that we try to make guys do. How can he see that, driving one way and see the other half of the floor? He's able to do that. His vision is so good."
Michigan coach John Beilein was asked this week what the Wolverines would look like if Burke had left for the NBA following his freshman season a year ago.
"Trey is a really good player and obviously has a positive impact on our team," Beilein said. "How it would have affected us? I'm glad he's here. Let's just say that."
Given Michigan's tremendous 1-2 punch in the backcourt, Wisconsin may have to look for advantages in the post, where Berggren could find favorable matchups at center. But the Wolverines are expected to rotate three big men into the game to make life difficult on Berggren.
Jordan Morgan's status is questionable after he sprained an ankle nearly two weeks ago against Illinois. In his place, sophomore Jon Horford and freshman Mitch McGary have played well.
Berggren said McGary, in particular, was playing beyond his years. McGary is averaging 6.1 points and 6.0 rebounds, but during Michigan's victory against Ohio State, he played 29 minutes and scored 14 points, both career highs.
"He's a grown man," Berggren said. "He doesn't play like a freshman. He's as physical as anyone. I'm going to have my hands full with him."
As usual, a game involving Wisconsin will involve a contrast in styles.
Michigan ranks fourth in the country in field-goal shooting (50.3 percent), sixth in 3-point shooting (41.2 percent), second in assists-to-turnovers ratio (1.64) and first in points per possession at 1.21.
And while Michigan averages 77.7 points per game, Wisconsin is allowing just 56.2 points per game to rank No. 11 nationally. The Badgers also lead the Big Ten in fewest points allowed per possession (0.9).
Saturday's game could have an enormous impact on the Big Ten race. A Wisconsin victory would give it the same conference record as Michigan and provide the Badgers with a head-to-head tiebreaker because the teams play just once this season. The Badgers also find themselves just one game out of first place following Indiana's surprising last-second loss at Illinois on Thursday night.
Michigan, Indiana and Michigan State all stand 8-2, and if things break a certain way, a five-way tie is possible by the end of Saturday.
"Every night is a battle, so you never know when people are going to take losses," Berggren said. "You can't expect other teams to walk through and continue to win all their games. And obviously we can't expect to just walk through our schedule. We're going to keep fighting and hopefully we're right there at the end."
For Wisconsin's sake, hopefully its players are still standing upright. The grind of the Big Ten season is just getting good.