Hoops Preview: Wisconsin

Submitted by Brian on February 9th, 2018 at 12:46 PM


WHAT #29 Michigan (19-7) vs
#92 Wisconsin (11-15)
WHERE Trohl Center
Madison, WI
WHEN Noon, Sunday
LINE Michigan –2 (KenPom)

Wisconsin has been flexed on repeatedly this year.


This is Not A Vintage Beilein Offense. It's not the schedule, or some goofy shooting that will clear itself up. It is time we accept the fact that sometimes basketball can be ugly even when the Submaster is in charge, and this is pretty ugly. Michigan's bottoming out at around 60th and slightly above-average in conference play, so that's nice. But the Northwestern game rather confirms suspicions from earlier in the year that this is a team that is going to be in a scuffle most nights.

The alarming plummet of Charles Matthews from budding star to a guy with a 92 ORTG in conference play is a large part of this; free throw shooting and guys like MAAR and Robinson hitting their ceiling is a majority of the rest. You can hold out hope that Michigan is going to have one of those Purdue games again, and they might. But prepare for rock fights.

FWIW, Isaiah Livers is touch and go.


Projected starters are in bold. Hover over headers for stat explanations. The "Should I Be Mad If He Hits A Three" methodology: we're mad if a guy who's not good at shooting somehow hits one. Yes, you're still allowed to be unhappy if a proven shooter is left open. It's a free country.

Pos. # Name Yr. Ht./Wt. %Min %Poss ORtg SIBMIHHAT
G 34 Brad Davison Fr. 6'3, 205 76 22 104 No
PG-type substance w higher TO rate than A rate, decent shooter and gets to line fairly well.
G 1 Brevin Pritzl So. 6'3, 197 66 16 114 Eh
Just A Shooter-ish, w two-thirds of his shots from deep. 33% shooter there. No TOs.
F 21 Khalil Iverson Jr. 6'5, 210 73 19 103 Extremely
Garbage man at rim (68% of his shots), 0/21 from 3 on year. OREB threat. Gets to line.
F 2 Aleem Ford Fr. 6'8, 215 57 13 115 Not at all
Just A Shooter hitting 47% from deep.
C 22 Ethan Happ Jr. 6'10, 235 75 36 107 Very
Post monster has top 20 assist rate nationally but has too much on his shoulders to be efficient.
F 35 Nate Reuvers Fr. 6'10, 215 34 22 94 Eh
Stretch four takes a ton of 2PJ at 36%, meh three point shooter. Doesn't rebound much.
F 20 TJ Schlundt Jr. 6'5, 197 17 10 81 Very
Yes, I expect you to believe that Wisconsin has a bench player named "TJ Schlundt."
F 25 Alex Illikainen Jr. 6'9, 231 15 8 116 Sort of
It is extremely disappointing that Illikainen never worked out because his last name makes for excellent headline fodder.

Note that we assume D'Mitrik Trice is not available. Trice has not played since December 6th.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the preview.]



"help" –Happ [Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Wisconsin's uncanny ability to have droves of players leave without apparent effect has departed them. The only starter the Badgers got back is Ethan Happ, who is great. The players surrounding him are not the usual crew of dudes from Kenosha who shoot 80% from three. The heavy usage parts of the Wisconsin offense struggle to get their ORTGs above 110, in large part because Happ has to carry an incredible load. His Kenpom stats:

  • 19th nationally in assist rate
  • shooting 55% on 342(!) two-pointers
  • OREB/DREB of 11/26, former is top 200 and latter is top 40.
  • Extant block rate of 3.4 and excellent-for-big steal rate of 2.9.
  • Gets to line frequently but only shoots 55% there.

All that adds up to a 36% usage rate, which is fourth nationally. Unless your name is Trae Young, a usage rate that high portends misery. Happ is surrounded by gents who play for the Towsons and Howards of the world; almost all these teams are desperate for someone to take a shot and have one guy who's capable of doing so. So too Wisconsin. Happ's ability to survive at that usage level is a testament to his ability, and a condemnation of his supporting cast.

Happ's nominal second banana is freshman guard Brad Davison, who's the other guy capable of creating some shots. He's able to get to the rim a bit, a solid (39%) shooter on almost-always-unassisted two point jumpers, and a 36% shooter from deep who has a fair number of in-your-face jacks in the plus column.

His turnover rate's a bit high and his assist rate is middling—he's more MAAR than a point guard—but he's tracking towards being one of those hateful Wisconsin guys who is around for 17 years and never misses a shot in the last four minutes of a game. This year, he's got too much on his plate too early, with an ORTG of 103.

Wisconsin's two Just A Shooter types are collectively middling. Freshman Aleem Ford takes 72% of his shots from behind the line and hits 47%; he's the one guy you cannot leave. If you do not leave him he will barely get a shot up. Junior and Idiocracy snack brand Brevin Pritzl is a little less extreme—he'll attack the occasional closeout—but still takes almost two thirds of his shots behind the line. He was doing pretty well on the season until an 0-9 outing against Northwestern saw him plummet; 3-3 against Illinois did get him back up to 33%.

Wisconsin's fifth and final starter is Khalil Iverson, a BurlyWing(tm) in the Dawson/Tate mold. About 70% of his shots are at the rim, about 70% of those are assisted or OREB putbacks, and those go down about 70% of the time. Anything farther away from the rim is a charming disaster. Iverson is approaching Jan Jagla territory as a three point shooter: he is 0 of 21 on the season. Per Hoop-Math he's hitting 27% on his very occasional two point jumpers.

With the loss of freshman wing Kobe King and the continued absence of D'Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin's bench consists of freshman stretch four Nate Reuvers and some tallish guys who are allergic to the ball. Reuvers doesn't do much other than shoot and swat some shots, and that shooting is almost all jumpers. He's hitting 43/31.

6'8" Charles Thomas (not that Charles Thomas) is willing to put a shot up from time to time but sees about four minutes a game for a reason. The gents who absolutely don't want to see the ball are TJ Schlundt, Alex Illikainen, and Aaron Moesch. Schlundt is the only guy with double digit usage at 10.1%; he's hitting 25% of his threes. The other two gents have 22 attempts from the field between them. Illikainen is an OREB threat, I guess?

Wisconsin's bench situation is neatly summed up by Kenpom, which lists Happ as the backup point guard. The Badgers do not have a bench player under 6'5" who's not in the grays on Kenpom.


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Wisconsin's decline has been at both ends of the floor; they enter the game as the #92 team in the country, with the #95 offense and the #95 defense. They are mediocre at almost everything, with only one individual component in the top 100, that defensive rebounding. Oh, and they remain an elite team at preventing threes from getting launched.

Everything else is a slog of indistinct play. Their turnover rate is slightly better than the national average; their EFG is almost bang on it; they're a perfectly average OREB team, etc. Since 200 of the 350 or so D-I programs are generic create-a-teams, this is Not Good for the Badgers, and flipping to conference numbers turns up a sea of red. Wisconsin is 12th in the league at preventing turnovers; they're 11th in three point shooting; they're dead last at getting shots blocked at 15%. The only thing they are slightly above average at is OREBs, where they are sixth.

On defense they struggle to protect the rim; they send a lot of folks to the line. This latter deficiency might not be a particularly bad one against Michigan and its grim FT shooting, and Wisconsin's defense is likely to perk up in this matchup since they've suffered from horrible "free throw defense" this year.


Know where you can help from, erratically. Whoever's got Iverson at any particular moment should be well aware of where Happ is and be ready to apply a double. If Iverson gets an open shot nobody cares. Nobody cares! Michigan just has to watch him on dives to the basket since Happ is such an excellent passer; the goal here isn't to shut off Happ but to make him uneasy and maybe force a few turnovers.

Paging Charles Matthews. Michigan's offense is not going to improve unless Matthews gets off the mat here. He's been horrible for a month. Teams seem to have scouted him into oblivion; when he drives it gets raked out more often than not. If he can't get back to the player who took a ton of shots at the rim and hit 85% of them his FT shooting is going to be his main contribution to Michigan's offense. And that... I mean, you know.

Take advantage of Wisconsin's poor free throw defense. IT CAN'T HURT YOU GUYS.


Michigan by 2.



February 9th, 2018 at 12:56 PM ^

Is is wrong that I'm irrationally terrified that Khalil Iverson, he of the 0/21 3-point statistic, is going to go 7/9 from 3 against Michigan, with three of them being banked in and two of them coming while he's falling backwards out of bounds?

Perkis-Size Me

February 9th, 2018 at 1:00 PM ^

Calling it now: Wisconsin is going 10 of 15 from 3 point land, and shooting above 50% inside the arc. 

The teams that are normally horrible shooting teams tend to just go off against Michigan. And the Kohl Center is also a House of Horrors for this program, so yeah....I don't have high hopes. 

Naked Bootlegger

February 9th, 2018 at 1:02 PM ^

Never forget that Bo Ryan lives in a small closet in the extreme bowels of the Kohl Center.   He rarely escapes, but just be prepared in case he makes a disheveled, demonic appearance.  


February 9th, 2018 at 1:09 PM ^

In defense of Charles Matthews, Michigan's defense is 21 per Kenpom, which is the best it's ever been under Beilein by a healthy margin. And some of that credit has to go to Matthews, who is a really solid on ball defender and a good help defender as well. His offense has struggled mightily, but he's absolutely still contributing out there and that's why you need to let him still work things out.


February 9th, 2018 at 3:18 PM ^

I've been to every single Michigan at Wisconsin hoops game since I started grad school in Madison in 2007, and I am more confident in the W this year than any previous year.

That Ben Brust near-halfcourt buzzer beater in '13 remains one of the craziest sports spectacles I've seen in person. 

It won't be close this year.  For the game to even be close, Michigan will have to play as poorly as we did vs NWU, and UW will have to play...better than they have all season.  I follow Badger sports almost as closely as Michigan sports and this Wisconsin hoops team is BAD. The worst they've fielded in a decade, and it's not even close.

Happ vs Wagner will be fun to watch, though, and I think Happ will have the edge there.

Anyone else going to be at the game? 


February 9th, 2018 at 5:01 PM ^

tl;dr: bad coaching, bad players

Longer take: Bo was busy with the fallout from his extramarital affair in '14-'15. I've heard there was a movement to push him out right after the end of the '15 season, but it's hard to push out a coach for having an affair after he just came in second place in the NCAA Tournament and handed unbeaten Kentucky their first and only loss of the season.  That '14-'15 Badger team was loaded with talent and well-coached.

At that point, the relationship between powerful Bo Ryan and the even more powerful Barry Alvarez was not good, to the point where Bo brought attorneys to meetings with the athletic department.  Ryan announced before the '15-'16 season that he was going to retire at the end of the season but retired unexpectedly in the middle of the season to give his hand-picked successor, assistant coach Greg Gard, an advantage to become the full time head coach in '16-'17.  Alvarez wanted an open search, but Ryan forced his hand, so Gard did not come on as head coach in '16-'17 with Barry's full good graces.

Gard got by last season ('16-'17) on the talent of Bo's recruits, primarily seniors Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, and sophomore Ethan Happ.  All of those dudes were near-NBA caliber talents (Happ will probably be a lottery pick this year) and I was (pleasantly) surprised when Michigan beat them in the B1G Tournament Final.

This year, the talented upperclassmen are gone, and the Badgers lost a starting G (Trice) and a solid backup G (King) early in the season.  The Badgers are threadbare in the backcourt.  Ryan was obviously preoccupied a few years ago, so there's not much talent in the junior and senior classes.  I can see now why Barry wasn't sold on Gard as Ryan's successor.  I will not be surprised if Gard is let go at the end of the season.

As a Badger fan (only Michigan usually takes priority in my cheering), it has been shitty to watch.   


Steve in PA

February 10th, 2018 at 11:16 AM ^

Wisconsin is finding out how good of a coach Bo Ryan actually was.  Can Barry hire a basketball coach?  He was blessed with a good program and stability for a long time.

They were hot garbage before Dick Bennett came in 1995 then when he retired Bo took it to the next level and maintained.  Now they are regressing to the pre-1995 norm and need to make a change.  A good Wisconsin Basketball program is good for the B1G.