Jackie Kirr/BadgerNation

Badgers Breakdown: No.8 Michigan vs. No.2 Wisconsin in the Big Ten tournament finals

Advancing to its third tournament final in five seasons, No.2 seed Wisconsin looks to win the rubber match against No.8 seed Michigan for the league's automatic bid. BadgerNation breaks down the match-up.

Michigan (23-11, 10-8 Big Ten) vs. No.24 Wisconsin (25-8, 12-6 Big Ten)  

Date/Time – Sunday, March 12, 2 p.m. central

Arena – Washington D.C.’s Verizon Center (20,356) 

Television – CBS (Jim Nantz, Grant Hill, Bill Raftery and Tracy Wolfson) 

Radio – Badgers Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Michigan leads 89-74 (Wisconsin leads 4-1 on neutral courts)

Last Meeting – Michigan won, 64-58, on February 16, 2017, in Ann Arbor

WISCONSIN PROBABLE STARTERS

3 Zak Showalter (6-3 Senior Guard, 8.3 ppg)

10 Nigel Hayes (6-8 Senior Forward, 13.5 ppg)

22 Ethan Happ (6-10 Sophomore Forward, 13.9 ppg)

24 Bronson Koenig (6-2 Senior Guard, 14.0 ppg)

30 Vitto Brown (6-8 Senior Forward, 6.8 ppg)

OFF THE BENCH

0 D'Mitrik Trice (6-0 Freshman Guard, 6.1 ppg)

1 Brevin Pritzl (6-3 Freshman Guard, 2.0 ppg)

11 Jordan Hill (6-4 Junior Guard, 1.6 ppg)

PLAYER TO WATCH 

Hayes scored 18 points and grabbed 10 rebounds to record his sixth double-double this season in yesterday’s victory over Michigan. The senior now has scored at least 10 points in 24 games this season and has seven games with at least 10 rebounds.

MICHIGAN PROBABLE STARTERS

5 D.J. Wilson (6-10 Junior Forward, 10.4 ppg)

10 Derrick Walton (6-1 Senior Guard, 15.0 ppg)

12 Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman (6-4 Junior Guard, 9.2 ppg) 

13 Moritz Wagner (6-11 Sophomore Forward, 12.1 ppg)

21 Zak Irvin (6-6 Senior Guard, 12.8 ppg) 

OFF THE BENCH

3 Xavier Simpson (6-0 Freshman Guard, 1.7 ppg)

22 Duncan Robinson (6-8 Senior Forward, 8.0 ppg) 

34 Mark Donnal (6-9 Senior Forward, 4.2 ppg) 

PLAYER TO WATCH

Walton Jr. scored a career-best 29 points and dished out a game-high nine assists In Michigan’s Saturday win. Walton scored or assisted on 18 of Michigan's last 20 points. 

LAST TIME OUT

WASHINGTON – Finding a flow offensively that was sparked by a third straight proficient defensive performance, second-seeded Wisconsin registered a 76-48 victory over Northwestern that was emphatic in its delivery. 

Nigel Hayes led the Badgers with 18 points and 10 rebounds, Ethan Happ scored 16, including 8 of 11 from the free throw line, and Zak Showalter added 10 points to lead Wisconsin into the Big Ten tournament championship game for a seventh time. 

The Badgers late season slide, where they lost five times in a six game span, started with a 66-59 home loss to Northwestern and included a road loss in Ann Arbor. First things first, Wisconsin’s 28-point victory was the largest margin of victory in a semifinals in conference tournament history, including the largest ever for the Badgers in any round.

“When you look at our offense, our defense, and playing well both halves, this was one of our best, if not the best game of the season,” senior forward Vitto Brown said. “We put it all together.”

The Badgers opened the game with a 7-0 run, striking a balance between attacking the paint, hitting from the perimeter and bottling up Northwestern. The Wildcats missed their first seven shots and were trailing 15-3 by the 12:59 mark, thanks to eight points from Bronson Koenig and seven from Hayes. 

Northwestern's 9-1 run cut the Badgers lead to four at 16-12. That was as close as they would get. Zak Showalter hit back to back three pointers, the first field goals from someone besides Koenig and Hayes, to extend the lead to nine and Happ scored 10 points to close out the first half, including hitting 6 of 9 free throws and a couple of layups.

By the time the Badgers hit the locker room, they had a 17-point lead, their largest since Jan.12.

In the season's earlier matchup, Northwestern stymied Happ and the Badgers’ offense with aggressive double teams, but quick passing and timely outside shooting prevented a recurrence of scoring woes.

The Badgers finished the game with 13 assists while shooting 41.4 percent from 3-point range, marking the third straight game – and first time this season – hitting at least 10 3-pointers in three straight games. Additionally seven different Badgers hit a three pointer, also a season first.

But while the offense was given a jolt, the Badgers insisted they did not change things up on defense. The Badgers held Northwestern to a single assist through the first 32 minutes, and five for the game, six fewer than the first meeting this season.

Wisconsin out rebounded Northwestern 37-27 and limiting the Wildcats to only seven second-chance points and two fast-break points.

The Badgers completely put the game away with a 13-2 run, increasing the lead from 15 to 26 with less than 10 minutes remaining. After a couple of baskets by the Wildcats, the Badgers reeled off another 8-0 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Hill and Brevin Pritzl to reach their biggest lead of the game at 33 points. 

SERIES NOTES

This will be the rubber match between Wisconsin and Michigan, as both teams won on its home court.

The Wolverines haven’t won the season series against Wisconsin since 1992-93

Michigan head coach John Beilein is 3-16 all-time against the Badgers.

Wisconsin is 3-0 all-time against Michigan in the Big Ten tournament. 

LAST MEETING

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In a game that featured eight ties and 11 lead changes, No.11 Wisconsin lost its composure over the final 10 minutes and change in a 64-58 defeat to Michigan at the Crisler Center.

Moritz Wagner scored 21 points (8.1 above his season average), Zak Irvin added 18 and Muhammed Abdur-Rahkman scored 12, including six straight points during a second half spurt, that put Michigan ahead for good and extended UW’s misery.

Happ scored 22 points before fouling out in the final minute for Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3 Big Ten), which has lost two straight and fell back into a three-way tie in the conference standings with Maryland and Purdue.

Wisconsin played without senior Bronson Koenig, who was ruled out Thursday morning to rest his ailing left calf. It was the first game Koenig, had missed since the second game of his true freshman season, and the first time in 38 games UW had a change to its starting lineup.

True freshman D’Mitrik Trice started in Koenig’s place – becoming just the fifth true freshman to start for Wisconsin since 2000 – but the point guard finished with nine points on 2-for-15 shooting, He also delivered a foul on Abdur-Rahkman’s 3-point make that led to a made free throw during a back-breaking 9-0 Michigan run in the second half.

Iverson popped for 10 points off the bench but the Badgers didn’t get much scoring from anybody else, including their seniors. Nigel Hayes attempted only seven shots and finished with six points and Vitto Brown was scoreless on five shots.

UW shot 38.3 percent from the field and 30 percent (9-for-30) in the second half. Take out Happ’s 10-for-13 performance, UW shot 27.7 percent (13-for-47) and missed a ton of easy looks around the rim.

According to head coach Greg Gard, Wisconsin went 10-for-16 in the paint in the first half and 7-for-21 in the lane after halftime.

Showalter gave Wisconsin its final lead on a 3-point play at 47-45 with 10:47 remaining. The offense went south after that, going scoreless for 4:28 on seven consecutive empty possessions. Michigan outscored UW 13-3 run over the next six minutes to deliver the dagger, as the Badgers made only two field goals after Showalter’s play.

Happ was responsible for 27 of Wisconsin's 31 points in the first half, scoring 18 points (one more than the last two games combined) and four assists that led to nine points. 

But without much action from his teammates in the second half, Michigan held him to only four points while the sophomore committed all five of his fouls, helping the Wolverines beat the Badgers for only the third time in the last 20 meetings.

WISCONSIN NOTES

Wisconsin advances to its seventh Big Ten tournament championship game (won in 2004, ’08 and ’15; lost in ’05, ’07 and ’13).

After shooting a combined 57.7 percent from the field in its first two Big Ten tournament games (56-of-97), Northwestern shot 34.6 (18-of-52) vs. Wisconsin. The Badgers also held Northwestern to a season-low 48 points.

Wisconsin’s starting five accounted for 60 of the team’s 76 total points vs Northwestern.

The Badgers are 6-0 when allowing less than 50 points and 21-2 when holding its opponents to less than 45 percent from the field. 

MICHIGAN NOTES 

Michigan advances to third Big Ten Tournament championship game (won in 1998—but vacated by N.C.A.A. sanctions—and lost in 2014). 

Michigan shot 63.3 percent from the field (19-of-30) to take a 47-36 halftime lead. U-M hit six of its first seven shots, eight of its first 10, and 14 of its first 19. Individually, Mo Wagner (5-of-5) and Zak Irvin (4-of-5) led the way for the Wolverines. 

Since an 85-69 loss at Illinois on January 11, the Wolverines have won nine of their last 11 games.

Michigan finished the Big Ten season as the conference’s No. 1 free throw shooting team (77.1). It hit 18-of-22 free throws (81.8) vs. Minnesota, making its first 10 foul shots.

PREDICTION

The way Nigel Hayes sees it, there’s something about almost dying that can relax a team. Michigan’s scary ordeal made headlines Wednesday night, as its team charter aborted a takeoff in high winds, skidded off the runway and forced everyone to evacuate. Traveling the morning of its second round game, all the Wolverines have done is blowout Illinois (the final straw in John Groce’s tenure), knock off No.1 seed Purdue in overtime and eliminate one of the hottest teams in the league the last month in Minnesota.

“I told the guys I think they’re going to play a lot better now because of (the accident),” Hayes said. “They have this ‘we almost died’ type of thing, so now anything they’re worried about in terms of playing well or trying to do this, trying to win the championship, trying to make the N.C.A.A. tournament, it’s taken a back seat to they have a life.”

The Wolverines certainly looked carefree on Saturday. In addition to Walton’s dominance, Wagner hit his first six shots en route to a 17-point performance, Zak Irvin chipped in 13 and Duncan Robinson added 10. Michigan is now 9-2 in its last 11 games with those two losses in overtime to a red-hot Minnesota (Feb. 19) squad, who has won nine of its last 11, and by a last second layup after a full court catch and shoot at Northwestern (March 1).

“For the most part, this team is really close, aside what happened,” Walton said. “I think once we got to this tournament, was able to focus on basketball. We wanted to do something special. That's all it really boils down to. We have another opportunity to do so (today). We're going to focus our minds on that.”

While Walton has been hot, Irvin has enjoyed seeing Wisconsin on the other sideline. Irvin scored 20 points and had six rebounds in the loss in Madison and had 18 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals in the win in Ann Arbor. Koenig didn’t play in that game because of a calf injury and D’Mitrik Trice struggled in his place (2-for-15), but the Badgers led by eight early in the first half until Michigan started making the critical plays instead of Wisconsin.

“Michigan does test you in different ways,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard said. “Obviously with bigs, they can stretch you, shoot the threes. Walton is playing as well as any point guard in the country right now. Obviously they've got experience in other areas with Irvin and the other guys that play along the frontline for them. We'll have to play well. You get to this point in time, you're in a championship game. They're not there by accident, and neither are we. Like I said, it will hopefully be a really good game between two good teams.”

Wisconsin is more fresh that Michigan but are they as motivated? The Badgers are a team led by four seniors who was picked to win the conference championship, had it in their grasp and lost it over the course of three weeks. I believe they are and the performance of Brown, Hayes, Koenig and Showalter here in DC prove how motivated they are.

Wisconsin’s defense has reached an impressive level of the last three games, a renewed sense of focus, determination and grit. As a result the Badgers’ offense has seen a spike in production, a great sign in the month of March. Those will be put to the test against Michigan, which scored 20 points off 11 Minnesota turnovers and six fast-break points on its way to shooting 53.7 percent from the floor. The one glaring area that needs to be exploited? The low post, where the Wolverines allowed the Gophers to score 50 of their 77 points. Hayes, Happ and others need to make sure the ball gets inside.

If Wisconsin can handle and counter the runs Michigan will inevitably make, the Badgers’ seniors hoist the tournament trophy with a nine-point win.

Worgull's Record: 27-6

Points off Prediction: 309 (9.3 per game)


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