|WHAT||Michigan at Wisconsin|
|WHERE||Kohl Center, Ninth Circle of Hell, Wisconsin|
|WHEN||6 pm Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||Wisconsin -8 (KenPom)|
Right: Bo Ryan during a 25-point win. Seriously. (Not pictured: Sam Dekker's face melting off.)
Good news, everyone! Michigan plays Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, where they haven't won since 1999, against a Badger squad that ranks third nationally in offensive efficiency and is probably real pissed off about losing at Indiana on Tuesday. Are you ready for the basketball equivalent of Chinese water torture? Trick question, because there's no preparing yourself for that.
This year's Wisconsin offense may be the best Bo Ryan has ever assembled; the starting five features two efficient, high-usage players filling the roles of leading scorer (Sam Dekker) and distributor (Traevon Jackson) ... and the other three all rank within the top 60(!) nationally in offensive rating. While the defense isn't up to Ryan's normal standards—"just" 24th in efficiency—the combination of lethal outside shooting and Fort Knox-level ball protection on the other end makes Wisconsin one of the most difficult teams to beat in the country, especially at home.
Freed from the shackles that Ryan puts on all his freshmen, regardless of talent, 6'7" forward Sam Dekker has improved his efficiency as a sophomore while taking on the role of go-to scorer. He can score in just about any fashion—especially in transition, where he posts an absurd 81 eFG%—shooting 59% from two and 35% from three. He's Wisconsin's best offensive rebounder, as well; his only apparent offensive weakness is a surprisingly low 60% mark from the free-throw line.
Dekker is joined on the front line by 7'0" center Frank Kaminsky, who currently holds the #10 spot in the KenPom Player of the Year rankings* by virtue of being good at, well, just about everything. Kaminsky is shooting the lights out (60% 2-pt, 21-for-44 3-pt), rebounding well at both ends, rarely turning the ball over, and posting an impressive 6.2% block rate. John Beilein would do the most terrible thing he could imagine to have a Frank Kaminsky, which probably means he wouldn't say "thank you" to his Starbucks barista, because John Beilein is pretty much the nicest guy ever.
The Badgers go with a three-guard look featuring 6'2" junior Traevon Jackson—son of former OSU and NBA star Jim Jackson—running the point. With an assist rate more than double any of his teammates', Jackson's primary role is facilitating the offense; he's also got a decent outside shot (16-for-43 3-pt), and while he's not the most efficient scorer inside the arc, he gets to the line at a high rate.
Jackson is flanked in the backcourt by sharpshooters Ben Brust and Josh Gasser, whom you may remember from [TERRIBLE THING REDACTED] and [OTHER TERRIBLE THING REDACTED]. Brust has already attempted 111 three-pointers this season, the most of any Big Ten player, and he's connecting at a 42% clip; he's actually a worse shooter when he ventures inside the arc, but fouling him is ill-advised—he's 32-for-34 this season at the charity stripe. Gasser is a 39% three-point shooter who's much more effective than Brust as a slasher—he hits 52% of his twos, mostly at the rim, and 87% of his free throws with a FT rate just outside the top 100 nationally.
6'7", 250-pound freshman Nigel Hayes—high school teammate of Chris Wormley at Toledo Whitmer—has come on really strong of late as he's learned to use his solid frame to get to the line; this chart from SI's Luke Winn (published before the Indiana game) speaks volumes:
Hayes has now attempted nearly as many free throws (67, of which he makes 62%) as field goals (71, 52%); he's averaging 11 points in Big Ten play while playing ~18 minutes per in that span. While his rebounding rates are pretty low for a post player, Bo Ryan has been willing to put him out there in place of Kaminsky and play small-ball (or Wisconsin's twisted version of small-ball).
While Hayes has carved out a decent role for himself recently, the Badgers still don't use their bench often—they rank 338th in bench minutes. The primary backup guard is 6'3" freshman Bronson Koenig, a very low-usage player who hasn't attempted more than four shots in a conference game; he's shooting well from two and struggling from the outside.
Wisconsin jumped out to a school-record 16-0 start before Tuesday's loss at Assembly Hall, and they didn't do it against the proverbial tray of cupcakes: those 16 wins include nine KenPom top-100 teams, four of which rank in the top 25 (Florida, St. Louis, Virginia, and Iowa). Their most impressive win is probably the 48-38 suffocation of #17 Virginia in the B1G/ACC Challenge that set the game of basketball back a good half-century.
Now that we're partway into conference play, I'll start posting four factors charts for all the games and Big Ten games only, with sample size issues obviously coming into play on the latter for a while.
Four factors, all games (national ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||55.2 (12)||12.9 (2)||30.2 (218)||40.7 (173)|
|Defense||45.0 (41)||16.2 (297)||28.6 (59)||23.8 (1)|
Conference-only (four games, Big Ten ranks in parentheses):
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||57.5 (2)||11.4 (1)||27.0 (9)||36.0 (7)|
|Defense||41.9 (1)||12.9 (12)||37.2 (11)||25.0 (1)|
The offense doesn't rebound well; they don't exactly have to, however, when they're shooting 39% from three and 53% from two as a team (and a remarkable 58% from two in conference play). The Badgers still hold the ball for an agonizingly long time on each possession and put up a high number of three-pointers; now they're just doing it more efficiently than ever before.
The defense looks really good on paper, especially when focusing on opponent eFG%, but they don't force turnovers or rebound very well; against Indiana, other flaws were exposed, per UMHoops:
Indiana handed Wisconsin its first loss of the season on Tuesday at Assembly Hall thanks to an impressive offensive showing. The Hoosiers racked up 1.17 points per trip against the Badgers in the worst defensive showing for Bo Ryan’s program in a Big Ten game since March, 2012.
The Badgers clearly have some defensive issues to work out and their issues against Indiana stemmed from a failure to stop dribble penetration. Indiana was 28-of-48 on two point attempts and Yogi Ferrell (9-of-16 on twos), Will Sheehey and Stanford Robinson got to the basket at will.
A numbers-heavy look at the Badger defense at that link reveals issues against the fast break, pick-and-roll, and isolation looks that Michigan can potentially exploit. The Wolverines will probably have to do most of their damage in those areas if they want to keep pace with Wisconsin, one of the very best teams in the country at preventing and defending opponent three-pointers.
Unleash Stauskas. Wisconsin's defensive deficiencies appear ripe for exploitation by Nik Stauskas, especially with how well he's working the pick-and-roll with both big men in recent games. The Badgers will do everything they can to run him off the three-point line; that can open up gaps inside for Stauskas to drive or dish off to an open big. Caris LeVert could also get his penetration game going against Wisconsin—with their small backcourt, he's going to have a size advantage against whomever is defending him.
Don't blow rotations, please. Perimeter defense, especially on switches, has been a sore spot for Michigan this season. They simply can't afford to blow assignments against this Wisconsin team; losing a man on the perimeter is just asking for three points against, and in what should be a slow-paced game those are even more difficult to overcome. This won't be easy—not only do the guards have to be at peak awareness, the bigs are going to play in some uncomfortable spots with Kaminsky stretching the floor.
Quick outlets. Michigan isn't going to force many turnovers against Wisconsin given their ability to take care of the basketball, but that doesn't mean they can't get out in transition. The Badgers aren't a great rebounding team and their transition defense is iffy—after every Wisconsin miss, Michigan's bigs should be looking to move the ball upcourt with alacrity. This may be the only way the Wolverines can consistently generate open perimeter shots, and they'll need to do so if Wisconsin is hitting threes at their usual high rate.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan has a chance here if they can strike a fine balance between exploiting Wisconsin's trouble defending penetration and creating enough good looks from the outside to keep up with their three-point makes. I'd actually be pretty optimistic about this if not for (1) Michigan's own defensive issues probably cancelling this out, and (2) the goddamn Kohl Center, which cannot burn to the ground soon enough.
UMHoops preview. Maize n Brew preview. MnB Q&A with Bucky's 5th Quarter. Fouad recounts Michigan's struggles at Kohl if you're looking for a good hate-read. I jumped on the UMHoops podcast this afternoon with Joe Stapleton, David Merritt, and B5Q's Phil Mitten—listen for plenty of Wisconsin talk, a look at the 4-0 start in B1G play, and lots of OutKast. You can never go wrong with lots of OutKast.
*Kaminsky will be the fourth member of the top ten to face Michigan this season, joining Arizona's Nick Johnson (#3), Iowa State's DeAndre Kane (#7), and Duke's Jabari Parker (#9).