For an incredible 11 weeks, Michigan managed to avoid a snowstorm. Oh, there was the occasional flurry, but nothing that managed to stick around. This may not seem all the weird to young people who’ve grown up since global warming changed our weather expectations, but to those of us who grew up between the lakes before 2012 the welcome streak of fair weather, underpinned by strong science as it was, seemed as unsustainable as going an entire basketball season in the Big Ten without a loss.
On Saturday winter finally made its presence felt across the upper Midwest. The slippery conditions extended to Wisconin’s Trohl Center, where a team of small children (really, they were using sub-10-year-olds) struggled to keep Michigan’s end of the floor from resembling the state of the roads outside. The combination of Michigan’s lack of traction and some Wisconsin players constantly getting flung backwards by invisible trucks led to a frustrating afternoon for the Wolverine slashers, especially freshman Ignatius Brazdeikis. Iggy, who drew 6’11” Nate Reuvers, got called for two early fouls, played just 23 minutes, and for the first time in his college career finished a game without a point.
Wisconsin’s defense did an excellent job of running Michigan’s offense off the three-point line, and survived their few open looks, with Iggy missing his three, Poole going 1-of-5 (one a moonball that had zero chance of going in), Simpson 1-for-3, and Matthews unable to get one off. An ugly foot-and-rimmer by Teske early in the second half was just the team’s second made three all game.
Michigan spent much of the first half without both of its starting bigs, as Teske picked up a soft reach-on on Happ before Iggy picked up two. That necessitated some long minutes with Austin Davis against Happ. Rather than fouling the sub-50-percent free throw shooter, Davis mostly tried to hold up. The Badgers definitely knew where they wanted to attack with Davis on the floor, and Michigan had to survive some very open perimeters whenever help came. Davis wasn’t bad, but the stretch really made you appreciate how warm and cozy it feels to have Jon Teske on the floor.
Zavier Simpson made sure the game stayed close, bulling his way to the rim to set up easy points for whatever bigs were allowed out, and playing his characteristically dogged defense, especially on the perimeter. ESPN’s broadcast decisions made Wisconsin’s possessions as unwatchable as Brad Davison’s flops, especially in the first half. For a third of the frame much of the Badgers’ offensive zone had an annoying graphic literally covering a third of the frame, and the announcers spent a good four minutes of game time discussing the draft prospects of Michigan, Wisconsin, and, uh Murray State players. Michigan led 27-25 at the break.
When on the floor, Teske made life miserable for Happ, whose 26 points on 22 shots (all at or near the rim) included more than a few friendly Trohl Center rolls. Happ’s incredible post moves are devastating to defenders who leave their feet, but Teske’s size and quick feet allowed him to roll with every shot fake and stay in position.
Teske’s defense, when available, turned the #2 player to Kenpom into an average man [Barron]
Wisconsin returned the favor and then some on Michigan’s top usage guy, frustrating Charles Matthews into three turnovers and just five points. Much of that usage went to Poole, who finished with an inefficient 14 points on 23 shot equivalents. Livers had a dunk and a beautiful three-pointer late, but also three turnovers. Michigan would finish with 16 of those in a low-possession game.
With Teske’s autobench time served (he’d finish with two) and Happ resting early in the second half, Michigan had its chance to finally generate more than a one-possession lead, but got caught playing too fast. Poole in particular committed a few uncharacteristic turnovers. When Happ returned to the floor with the score tied at the 8:00 mark, it didn’t take my sensitive knees to know a storm was coming. Quickly down four, Poole took a terrible three-point attempt lob, then got flagged for his fourth foul when trying to help on Happ. An Eli Brooks long two was followed by a quick Happ slam and a Michigan timeout.
Again it was Simpson who refused stop fighting the conditions. With 3:00 remaining down six, Simpson forced a turnover, missed a contested transition layup, got the rebound, got fouled, missed two, then set up Livers (missed, rebound out of bounds off Wisconsin) and Teske (made) for open three-point attempts.
Happ got a friendly roll over Teske on a low-percentage (even for him) hook shot from six feet out to push Wisconsin’s lead to five, then made the front end of a 1-and-1 to put it back to six. Livers hit a step-back three to make it a 3-point game with a minute remaining, but the officials whistled Brazeikis for a questionable intentional foul that sent Beilein storming and Happ to the line for two. A few desperation plays later Virginia was the lone unbeaten and Wisconsin got to celebrate its first marquee win of the season.
With the worst part of winter still ahead, this won’t be the last time Michigan has to get out the snow shovels. On Tuesday they’ll host a slushy Minnesota squad that just lost to Illinois(!) before a trip Indiana’s Assembly Hall, another frosty venue that really makes you appreciate the comforts of home.
[Box score after THE JUMP]