Saturday is another one of these so called "must win" games for Wisconsin (really... aren't they all at this point) if the Badgers want to stay in the race for the Big Ten championship. Thankfully the Illini did everyone a favor and now we just need to take care of our business this weekend against the Wolverines of Michigan.
So, grab your snacks and beverages and sit back and get yourselves edumakated on the Wolverines of Michigan.
MTB: Word Association: Josh Gasser
Ace: Death to backboards.
MTB: Michigan hasn't exactly loved playing at the Kohl Center - I mean they've lost every game they've played there since 1999. What's up with that?
Ace: I would say the biggest issue here is that, until recently, Michigan hasn't exactly been a good basketball program (all praise be to Beilein). Obviously, they've turned it things around quite nicely, but Wisconsin is still a really tough place to play; Bo Ryan always puts a good team out on the court, the suffocating style of play can be tough to adjust to, and winning on the road anywhere in the Big Ten is hard. It also hasn't helped that recent Michigan teams have been relatively undersized, while Wisconsin's frontcourt tends to be comprised, as far as I can tell, of relatives of Norse gods.
MTB: Looking at the numbers this is a Michigan team that doesn't exactly play great defense… They don't force a lot of turnovers, nor defend well against the outside shot. How worried are you about that against a Wisconsin team that doesn't turn the ball over much and shoots a ton of threes? Or is there something else you are looking at as the key for you defensively?
Ace: Michigan isn't a stellar defensive outfit and there are certainly some concerns with their matchup with Wisconsin—namely, finding a way to limit Berggren without collapsing down and opening up the perimeter. Your point about turnovers is correct, though it's worth noting that Michigan tends to force more turnovers with Mitch McGary on the court—he's way more disruptive a defender than Jordan Morgan, though not at the same level positionally—and he's probably getting the bulk of the minutes with Morgan slowly working his way back from an ankle injury. Michigan has been a much better defensive team in conference play with McGary on the floor, and that makes a huge difference for them both on the interior and in defending the outside—he's got the athleticism to hedge hard on the pick and roll and force turnovers on the perimeter.
MTB: Everyone talks about Trey Burke and rightfully so, but this team's backbone as of late appears to rest with a core of freshman in Nic Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary. Can you really ride that trio along with Burke to a Big Ten Championship or are you worried about them hitting the wall here at the worst possible time?
Ace: Honestly, not worried at all, since you just named one transcendent point guard—I think we can say that now—and three very good freshmen, and still left out Tim Hardaway Jr., who's not too bad himself. Make no mistake, Burke is the backbone of this team, and the offense goes as he goes; his only truly subpar game of the season came in the loss to Ohio State, and not coincidentally that was the only game where the offense really struggled. As for the freshmen holding up, they've done so thus far and I expect that to continue; Beilein has been very careful with McGary's minutes, while Stauskas and Robinson both have limited enough roles in the offense—especially Robinson, who never has a play called for him—that I'm not worried about them burning out. There are so many weapons on this team that they get to spread the load without leaning too heavily on any one player (save Burke, who's proven time and again that he can handle it).
MTB: How good does it feel to not be the No. 1 team in the nation? After all that title has been thrown around more than a hacky sack anywhere in Madison.
Ace: Avoiding a curse-caused second loss to the Buckeyes is nice, but I think it's safe to say every Michigan fan wants this team to be number one regardless of recent trends. This school has been starved for a truly elite basketball team since the program crumbled after the Ed Martin scandal, and we want to be able to say we've truly made it back to the top of the mountain. This has become one of those "sit back and enjoy it" years—I think we're all very aware that this isn't the type of team that comes around too often.
MTB: Prediction & why?
Ace: Well, the one time all year I picked against KenPom, our stat overlord was right, Michigan lost to Indiana, and I took a ton of crap on the blog and on Twitter. KenPom has Michigan winning by two, and I'm loathe to go against him again. I'm expecting a close game played at a snail's pace, but in the end Michigan's shooting and sheer talent win out. I'll go with the Wolverines winning 66-64 in a game that takes years off my life.