Jan 18, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Nik Stauskas (11) looks to shoot as Wisconsin Badgers guard Ben Brust (1) defends during the first half at the Kohl Center. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Basketball: Michigan at Wisconsin -- Wrap-Up

GBMWolverine Basketball TidbitsPosted at 12:30pm — 1/19/2014

Michigan Basketball: Michigan at Wisconsin — Wrap-Up

Sharpshooters Prevail

Michigan traveled to the Kohl Center on Saturday to play number three (sure to change with back to back losses) Wisconsin. Wisconsin had lost a game earlier to Indiana. The Hoosiers scratched, fought, and clawed out a victory at Assembly Hall. Indiana attacked Wisconsin’s defense and scored inside, the result being plenty of points.

Jan 18, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Michigan Wolverines guard Derrick Walton, Jr. (10) looks to pass as Wisconsin Badgers guard Traevon Jackson (12) defends at the Kohl Center. Michigan defeated Wisconsin 77-70. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The preview mentioned that Michigan needed to play excellent defense and make the foul shots. The defense may or may not have been excellent, this is in the eye of the beholder, but without question the defense was much better than in previous games.

Why so did this happen? To the author two points stand out as the cause. First, Michigan was very well prepared for the spread and pinpoint offense of Wisconsin. Michigan players were well aware of the passing options and were ready to jump into the passing or dribbling lines before the action of the Wisconsin defense. Michigan did not force a ton of turnovers, the number was sufficient, but the Wolverines did throw the Wisconsin offense out of balance and timing, forcing more one-on-one play and individual decisions than the Wisconsin staff would prefer. Michigan did a nice job of doubling down and pinning Wisconsin’s big men when the ball got inside. There was little room to maneuver, few easy dishes for layups on the backside, forcing tough shots. Michigan uncharacteristically blocked seven shots, a major factor in the victory.

Jan 18, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Jon Horford (15) looks to pass during the game with the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. Michigan defeated Wisconsin 77-70. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Second, Michigan players, although not looking like Conan The Barbarian clones, did play tougher. Wisconsin did a better job at diving for loose balls and saved several when Michigan had an equal chance; Wisconsin players grabbed several balls away from Michigan players (again, strong hands are somewhat of a problem). But, still, Michigan played tougher.

The game started out well for the Wolverines. Wisconsin was not hitting the outside shots and Michigan kept efficiently running the offense to gain a double-digit lead. This pad ended up being the difference in the game.

Caris LeVert’s on and off switch was on, especially in the first half. His two three point goals in a short period of time helped to expose Wisconsin’s defensive strategy; take away the lane and middle and give up the outside shot. Wisconsin’s strategy was flawed as the Wolverines, who love to launch easy three point attempts took some of the good looks and converted them into goals. Wisconsin laid back on the switches on the curl move coming off the high screens. Robinson the III and LeVert were the primary recipients of the Badger strategy. Stauskas started to mix it up inside and the Badgers also gave up some points inside to Michigan’s big men. The overall result was a near clinic of good offensive basketball against the vaunted Wisconsin defense during the first half. Wisconsin was reeling around the 10:00 mark of the second half, down by 13 points.

Two things happened that got Wisconsin back into the game. First, Michigan self- neutralized the fine ball motion offense that opens up good shots, and instead LeVert and Stauskas started trying to dribble one on the entire Wisconsin team, a strategy that did not work. As Dakich pointed out, Michigan is a much better team when passing the ball instead of taking a quick mediocre shot or over-dribbling. Robinson’s production went south after a fine first half. But if someone else has the ball, a player cannot score. Second, Wisconsin started to go straight at the middle of the Wolverine defense. The final result of these two events was Wisconsin taking control of the game and the lead melted to one point.

Then, as Churchill said decades ago, the dagger struck. That dagger came in the form of a step back three-point shot by Nik Stauskas with 48 seconds left. If the shot did not go in, Michigan probably does not win. The shot went in giving the Wolverines a four-point lead. This threw the game into end game strategy. The strategy is simple: try and force a turnover, then foul quickly, then hope the team misses one or both foul shots. Michigan wisely got the ball into the hands of Nik Stauskas and he made all six foul shots: result, game over Michigan wins.

This is the best overall game Michigan has played perhaps this year, although the play against Arizona was pretty good; Arizona is just huge inside and posed a major problem for the inside Michigan guys. There were flaws, there always are. But even though Michigan wilted some going down the stretch, the team kept good poise. Michigan broke even on the boards, partially because Wisconsin decided to fall back on many shots and provide the Wolverines with a better opportunity to grab the ball. There were offensive rebounds gathered by the Badgers, but there always are.

Jan 18, 2014; Madison, WI, USA; Michigan Wolverines head coach John Beilein responds to a question during a post-game media conference after the game with the Wisconsin Badgers at the Kohl Center. Michigan defeated Wisconsin 77-70. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

This is like two wins for Michigan. Many placed the game in the loss column. The author gave the Wolverines somewhere between a 1-3 and 1-5 chance of pulling this win out of the hat. But Michigan caught Wisconsin a little down at the start of the game and ran an outstanding offense to gain the lead.

There will be little time to celebrate; actually no time will be permitted. Iowa comes to town tough and very well coached. Teams are finding out that any let down in this league is dangerous. As we said in the very first article this season, the dogs are tougher and are starting to run. Northwestern who two weeks ago looked like a train wreck, and was without a starting point guard, did not melt at the end of the game and beat Indiana on the road. Coach Collins did a magnificent job putting the Wildcats into a position to win late in the game.

In short, the tough mission continues, but at least Michigan now has a win over a top five team. This may become good collateral for a selection committee to consider. Clearly, Michigan is one of the best 68 teams in the country, but more wins are needed to dance. Once in the dance Michigan could become a dangerous first week foe.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — Doc4Blu

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