Since suffering its first Big Ten loss against Rutgers, Wisconsin has been able to right the ship and handled the injury to Traevon Jackson well because of Bronson Koenig, who has guided the Badgers to a pair of home wins by an average of 23.5 points a game.
The next opponent for the Badgers is a road trip to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan (12-7, 5-2), which will be without starting guard Caris LeVert, who suffered a left foot injury against Northwestern and is done for the season. In their first game without their season, the Wolverines did something UW couldn’t win: beat Rutgers on the road.
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin as they play its first road game in 13 games since the loss to Rutgers.
Lay up: Starting strongThe last UW road game ended with a thud, leaving Piscataway, N.J., with a surprising loss after building a 12-point lead against one of the worst shooting teams in the league. Displaying two different kind of teams is something Wisconsin will need to avoid to leave Ann Arbor with a victory.
Michigan is set to play its second game without LeVert, and the Wolverines are likely still figuring out how to play without him. Over the last two games, high energy in the first half set the tone for UW victories. Although Michigan ranks fifth in scoring defense, allowing 61.7 points per game, they rank last in field goal percentage defense, allowing its opponents to shoot 43.5 percent from the field.
That last stat plays into Wisconsin’s hands with the Badgers shooting 48.9 percent from the field this season, including 50.1 percent from the field on about 50 shot attempts a game in conference play. During that time frame the Badgers offense hasn’t had one success in a particular area over the other, as they have been able to strike a balance on offense.
As long as Wisconsin can continue to pass and create good spacing they should be able to find good shots from the floor. Michigan is allowing their opponents to shoot 34.5 percent from beyond the arc on about 19 attempts a game. If Wisconsin can convert from three it should continue to help open up the offense.
Mid-range jumper: Containing the guard play
LeVert meant a lot to the Michigan, leading Michigan in points (14.9), rebounds (4.9), and assists (3.7). Spike Albrecht (pictured) and Derrick Walton Jr. both have experience and have played in some big games during their time at Michigan, so they are more than capable of filling in for the rest of season.
Walton is third on the team in scoring with 10.4 points in 32.9 minutes per game and currently ranks second on the team with 4.7 rebounds. Although Albrecht only averages 4.9 points a game, he has shown the ability to find an open teammate as he was second to LeVert with 3.3 assists a game to only 1.2 turnovers.
Outside of being able to take care of the basketball effectively for Michigan, Albrecht can hit the 3-point shot. While only shooting 31.9 percent from 3-point range this season, Albrecht is a career 40.1 percent 3-point shooter in his career. Wisconsin cannot allow Michigan the chance to screen for Albrecht to allow him the opportunity of getting open or lose track of him either on the floor. If they do, Albrecht will have a chance to make the Badgers pay for the defensive mistake.
With LeVert out, Walton will also take on a bigger role for Michigan’s offense. Despite averaging double figures, Walton is only making about 34.7 percent of his shots - making 2.8 shots a game on 8.2 attempts. This should be a solid matchup for Josh Gasser, who has done well at preventing dribble penetration. If Gasser can force Walton into mid-range-to-outside shots, it will play to the percentages considering Walton is only hitting 35.5 percent from 3-point range.
With Gasser likely on Walton, Sam Dekker will likely be on Irwin, who now becomes the top scorer for Michigan averaging 13.7 points a game. Dekker can’t let Irvin consistently get in the paint because that is where the 6-6 Irvin thrives. If the length of the Badger front court can disrupt Michigan it will prove dividends for the defense against a Michigan offense shooting 35.4 percent from 3-point range this season.
If Dekker can defend Irvin like he did Aaron White, Wisconsin will be fine on defense.
3-pointer: The success of Frank Kaminsky
When Kaminsky walks on the floor Saturday night, he will have the height advantage over Michigan’s frontcourt. Likely defended by 6-9 Ricky Doyle, the way Kaminsky has been playing as of late could possibly mean for a long night for the true freshman. Doyle is averaging 6.9 points a game in about 17.9 minutes of action, but he failed in score on only seven minutes in Michigan’s win at Rutgers.
Kaminsky going up against an inexperienced player should allow him to win his fair share of battles. Doyle could front the post at times to try and cut off a passing lane but defending him straight up should mean multiple post touches for Kaminsky, who has established is the center piece of UW’s offense.
Michigan could play zone at times to try and prevent Kaminsky from being a factor in the game but Kaminsky’s teammates have proven all year that they can help with the scoring when they need to. Wisconsin has busted many zones by hitting perimeter shots, and Bo Ryan can counter by using Kaminsky as a perimeter threat to score with jump shots or drives to the basket.
Kaminsky’s length also poses a bad matchup for Michigan on the glass. The Wolverines are only averaging 31.8 rebounds a game, last in the Big Ten. If Wisconsin can consistently reset the offense it should help wear down a Michigan defense and give Kaminsky another chance to score or set one of his teammates up for scoring opportunities.
In the second matchup last year against Michigan, Kaminsky registered a double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds by dominating the low block. He should be able to find that same success again in the lone matchup against Michigan this season.