Wisconsin-Michigan Preview (Feb 16, 2017)
Going into an important Big Ten showdown Thursday, No. 11 Wisconsin and Michigan enter in positions they either haven't been in all year or haven't been in much at all.
Wisconsin (21-4, 10-2 Big Ten) enters in a rare situation where it is coming off a loss after seeing an eight-game winning streak snapped Sunday with a 66-59 home setback to Northwestern.
The defeat trimmed the Badgers' lead to a half-game in the Big Ten over Maryland and Purdue, creating even more importance on its trip to Ann Arbor to face a Michigan team they defeated 17 of the last 19 times.
However, Wisconsin only won 68-64 on Jan. 17 in the first meeting of the season.
"For us, getting everybody's best shot and knowing that we are marked is good for us," Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said following the loss to Northwestern.
Wisconsin was leaking oil even before losing to Northwestern, shooting 25.3 from 3-point range and 37.4 percent overall in its prior four games, including a 70-69 overtime victory at Nebraska.
But the normally resilient Badgers couldn't find a way to beat Northwestern, and hope they can get their usually fine-tuned offense going against a Michigan team that has struggled for most of the season preventing points.
"Apparently we have to lose in order to learn the things that we already have been saying," Wisconsin senior Nigel Hayes said.
The Badgers will be without senior guard Bronson Koenig as he nurses a strained left leg.
Freshman D'Mitrik Trice will make his first start in place of the 22-year-old Koenig, who was limited to just two points in the loss to Northwestern on Sunday. Koenig is averaging 13.4 points and 2.2 assists.
While the Badgers try to prove they can overcome adversity, the Wolverines look to show they can handle prosperity.
Michigan is coming off a true road win for the first time this season, impressively handling Indiana at Assembly Hall 75-63 on Sunday.
Following a bad 70-66 home loss to Ohio State on Feb. 4, the Wolverines (16-9, 6-6) rebounded with a blowout victory over rival Michigan State 86-57 and the win at Indiana to revive its NCAA Tournament hopes.
A win over Wisconsin would further enhance Michigan's resume.
"Our kids are focused and prosperity has not been a friend to us so far this year," Wolverines coach John Beilein said. "When we have played well, we have lost a little bit of that edge that we need. We have come out there with that aggression we need, that angry aggression to get a 'W.'"
Michigan watched plenty of film of Northwestern's win over Wisconsin, and likely will try and steal some of those same ideas to attack the Badgers.
The big question is whether Michigan will employ the same strategy of constant double teams against Wisconsin 6-foot-10 sophomore Ethan Happ, who seemed to struggle against increased defensive attention placed on him by the Wildcats.
"I think we are going to have a lot of ideas in our head and hopefully we are good in all of them and not average in all of them," Beilein said.
Happ said following the Northwestern game that if he does face double-teams, it's just a matter of making quicker and better decisions when they do come.
"We're prepared for whatever they throw at us," Happ told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We're not going to change what we do offensively based on what they do."