Rushed Reactions: Wisconsin 68, Michigan 59Posted by Chris Johnson on March 15th, 2013
Chris Johnson is a Big Ten Correspondent and an RTC Columnist. He filed this report Friday from the United Center. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
For the first 20 minutes, the best prospective quarterfinal match-up of the Big Ten Tournament was a complete eyesore. Then the game opened up. Wisconsin’s efficient offense churned, Michigan never went away and the Badgers held on for a nine-point win.
- The First Half Was Bad. Really Bad. Call it good defense, bad shooting or an ugly mixture of the two. Whatever it was, Michigan and Wisconsin came out and laid a cringe-worthy offensive dud in the first half, 37 points of discordant offense, unsightly play actions and wasted possessions. Neither team broke the 0.60 points-per-possession barrier and the Badgers and Wolverines together made just seven three-point shots. This wasn’t totally unexpected; Wisconsin’s fourth-ranked efficiency defense has forced more than a few of the nation’s top offenses into utter dysfunction this season (see a mid-January road win at Indiana), but the miscues were not relegated to one end of the court. Michigan denied easy post feeds to Ryan Evans and Jared Bergrren and locked down the Badgers’ perimeter threats – Traevon Jackson and Ben Brust chief among them. The Wolverines went into the locker room with a three-point lead, and untold amounts of offensive frustration. By its own lights, Wisconsin couldn’t have felt much better. The second half presented the prospect of another soporific offensive slog.
- Wisconsin’s Shooting Really Picked up. Somewhere between that 5-of-29 first half and the opening possession of the second half, Wisconsin had a long-range epiphany. That’s the only way to explain how the Badgers knocked down six threes in a second half just minutes after one of the worst shooting halves of its season to date. Brust knocked down three bombs from distance, all of them coming at seemingly opportune moments – whenever Michigan clawed back, whenever Trey Burke or Mitch McGary would energize the pro-Wolverines crowd with a nifty layup or a strong post move, Brust closed the door. But Wisconsin’s second-half offensive uptick can’t be spun in such simple terms. The Badgers poked and prodded on the inside, with Bergrren, Evans and Mike Bruesewitz physically manhandling Michigan’s big men on the offensive end. Traevon Jackson directed a precise and efficient offensive attack, and Michigan’s defense, so strong for much of the first half, couldn’t hold firm for the second 20 minutes. Once Wisconsin found itself on the offensive end, and kept up its almost mechanically predictable stingy defense, Michigan couldn’t keep up.
- Whoever Beats Wisconsin Is Going To Have To Win A Close Game. Year after year, game after game, the Badgers don’t back down against eminently more talented teams. This year is no different – Bo Ryan’s team again finished in the top four of the Big Ten, extending one of the most ridiculously underplayed regular season streaks, and they entered the conference tournament with the same fearless consistency. Friday’s quarterfinal match-up presented yet another talent mismatch, and the Badgers – with a pace-averse, grinding, workmanlike brand of winning hoops – used their systematic effectiveness to drown out the Wolverines’ individual stars. Yes, Burke got his 19 points, and McGary attacked the glass and pushed Wisconsin’s interior D to a breaking point, but the Badgers managed to shroud one of the most explosive offenses in the country, and the multiple star players contained within, in a web of physical team defense, ball control and late-game confidence. The Badgers’ style dictates to opponents in a way that almost automatically trends towards low-possession, low-scoring games, which means whoever knocks off the Badgers – at the United Center in the Big Ten Tournament and in the NCAA Tournament – will likely need to do so within their systematic construct. When the Badgers are engaged on both ends, they are almost impossible to break down. Unless a team can dislodge Wisconsin’s preferred style and impose an accelerated pace, Wisconsin’s going to hang around in every game it plays. When CBS comes clean with the long-awaited bracket release on Sunday afternoon, whichever #1 or #2 seed that finds Bo Ryan’s team in its region will not advance without a grueling dog fight.