Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wisconsin preview

I've been particularly high on the Wisconsin hoops team this year and think that they've got a good chance to challenge MSU for the Big Ten crown this year. The Wisconsin basketball team is the Wisconsin football team of college basketball: huge, strong, precise, and overwhelming. Probably moreso than any team in the conference, Wisconsin presents a distinct matchup problem for just about every Michigan player. But so did UConn, and we know how that turned out.

Working in Michigan's favor is the recent loss of 6'10" forward Jon Leuer. Much like when Michigan was fortunate enough to play Ohio State without Evan Turner, this is a big break for the Wolverines as it has been forcing Wisconsin to change up their lineup a bit. UMHoops talked to Hoops Marinara--a Wisconsin hoops blog--about the change (emphasis mine):

In the absence of Leuer, Wisconsin has committed to small ball. Bo Ryan is starting sophomore Jordan Taylor in a three-guard approach right now. The Badgers used this look a lot before, but now Taylor is being asked to take on about 10 of Leuer’s 28 mpg right off the top. Bo has also indicated his rotation will be more situational without Leuer, depending on the quickness and size of the opponent. Leuer will be replaced by committee.

This is basically best-case scenario for Michigan--not that a player getting injured is a good thing, but you play the hand you're dealt. If Wisconsin goes to a smaller lineup, Michigan will be able to keep pace with their size and athleticism, but that's not to say it gives Micigan any sort of tangible advantage: Wisconsin takes about 3-4 less three-pointers a game than Michigan, but shoots at a markedly higher percentage (34.9% versus Michigan's 29.5%). But still, limiting Wisconsin's size advantage will be key because, if we've learned anything from watching DeShawn Sims recently, it's that he struggles mightily against taller opponents.

So that's the good news. The bad news? The Badgers are 130-10 at home under Bo Ryan and are really, really good. Their only conference losses this year are road games against MSU and OSU, and they have wins over Purdue, Duke, Marquette, Maryland, and Ohio State. Knowing that Michigan is limited in size and has little or no depth, I wouldn't be surprised to see Wisconsin return to a bigger lineup in this game, rather than go to the three-guard set described above. This will be a game that Zach Gibson is likely to get a lot of playing time, if not start.

Wisconsin is an exacting, precise, lethal team that I thoroughly expect to handle Michigan, that is unless they can shoot lights out from beyond the arc, something that they've proven unable to do with any consistency throughout the season. Michigan is going to need to create turnovers (tough to do against Wisconsin) and stay within a reasonable distance in the rebounding game, allowing a minimum of easy putbacks. Michigan is going to get all they can handle tonight and a close loss would be totally acceptable (if a bit heartbreaking). A win, though, would start to make NCAA Tournament hopes less of a fantastical alternate reality and more of a reasonable wish granted from the genie I found hiding in my shampoo bottle.


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