Wisconsin continues to rack up the impressive wins, as the Badgers begin the conference weekend in a tie for fourth place in the Big Ten after winning for the ninth time in 10 games. The win over No.8 Iowa Wednesday – UW’s second top-10 road victory in 11 days – continues to show how much the Badgers have improved under interim head coach Greg Gard, as their ability to beat teams in different ways have put them in the mix for a decent N.C.A.A. tournament seed.
Coming off a 9-point victory at home over Northwestern Wednesday, Michigan is desperately trying to take itself off the tournament bubble. Over the last five games, the Wolverines have posted a 3-2 record and faced two top-25 teams - beating Purdue (61-56) and losing at Maryland (86-82).
In this Badger Nation feature, we will look at the three keys or questions for Wisconsin (18-10, 10-5 Big Ten) in order to win on Senior Day against Michigan (20-9, 10-6).
Lay up: Bronson Koenig strong play continuing
There have been seven conference games where Koenig has shot below 36 percent from the field, but the junior has started to find his rhythm on offense with seven consecutive double-digit performances. There have been instances in conference play where Koenig would have one strong offensive game only to follow it up with a poor shooting performance. Example being in the first matchup against Michigan State when he scored 27 points on 53.3 percent shooting but scored a combined 12 points on 3-for-15 (20 percent) shooting the following two games.
Over the last seven games Koenig has averaged 13.2 points on a combined 28-for-65 (43 percent) shooting, which is up from the 40.1 percent he’s shooting on the year. It’s also worth nothing he has registered 18 assists to eight turnovers in his last seven starts, including only two games where he committed more than one turnover.
Koenig’s run of success can be contributed to being dialed in from 3-point range. Hitting 47 percent from 3-point range since Jan.31, Koenig has made multiple threes over the last six games and is averaging three makes per game. In 15 Big Ten games, Koenig is 37-for-86 on his attempts, representing 58.1 percent of his total attempts.
Needing one more 3-pointer to break the school record for consecutive games with a 3-point make, Koenig and his teammate should have success against a Michigan defense that ranks eighth in the conference in 3-point shooting percentage (34.7 percent). If Koenig can continue to be patient and find his open teammates, Wisconsin should create high-percentage shots, as the Wolverines are allowing teams to shoot 44.4 percent from the field (11th in the Big Ten) and have let two of their last three opponents shoot over 54 percent.
Mid-Range Jumper: Generating points in the paint
Both Michigan and Wisconsin allow more points in the paint than they scored, as the Wolverines are -5.7 points in the paint and the Badgers are -1.1. Michigan has allowed teams to average 33 points in the paint during Big Ten play, including five instances where it’s given up at least 40 points in the lane.
Wisconsin’s best performance in Big Ten play was 36 points against Indiana, resulting in a 24 points per game average. If UW wants to take advantage of Michigan’s interior struggles, Ethan Happ will need to bounce back from his five-point night against Iowa. Wisconsin has shown they can still find ways to win if Happ is off his offensive game, but when Happ is aggressive and gets into an early offensive rhythm, Wisconsin’s offense runs more efficiently with a balance between the post, the mid-range and the perimeter. Happ has shown this year that he is good moving without the basketball and finding the space he needs to be in order to have success around the rim.
Wisconsin was able to consistently beat Iowa by finding the soft spots of the Hawkeyes’ defense and register 28 points down low. Although Michigan gives up a lot of low-post points, the Wolverines have been able to limit the potential points off of second-chance opportunities. In Big Ten play Michigan allows 8.1 offensive rebounds per game. Wisconsin was only able to register eight offensive rebounds against Iowa but have been able to consistently generate second-chance opportunities for themselves this season (11.8 per game). With Michigan averaging only 2.2 blocks per game (13th in the Big Ten), UW should be able to have a strong showing.
3-Pointer: Can Wisconsin keep Michigan off the 3-point line?
Michigan has been one of the more consistent 3-point shooting teams in the Big Ten, ranking third in the league with a 39.8 shooting percentage. However, over the last five games, Michigan’s percentage has taken a slight dip to 36.9 percent on its average of 22.2 shots. Take out the 56 percent against Minnesota and the 38.1 percent against Maryland, the Wolverines have shot an average of 23.7 percent on an average of 19.6 shot attempts.
Wisconsin has struggled to defend the 3-point line this year, as the 38.2 percent opponent’s shoot is worst in the league, but the Badgers held an Iowa team shooting 38.8 percent from 3-point range to only 27.8 percent. Although holding Iowa to 1-for-11 in the second half, the Hawkeyes went 4-for-7 in the first half by taking advantage of Wisconsin’s confusion in its transition defense. That’s something Wisconsin can’t allow against a Michigan team that averages 10 made 3-pointers per game.
Michigan’s two biggest weapons are Aubrey Dawkins, whose 47.1 percent from the perimeter is the second-best mark in the Big Ten, and Duncan Robinson whose 46.6 percent is fifth in the league. Those two are a big reason why Michigan averages 76 points a game and shoots 47.6 percent from the field.
Seventy-five percent of Dawkins’ shot selections have come from 3-point range but he’s made fewer than two 3-point field goals in three of his last five games. If UW can be sound in its rotations and clog the lane, the Badgers should be able to dictate tempo.