MICHIGAN WOLVERINES (23-11)
at WISCONSIN BADGERS (25-8)
Verizon Center – Washington D.C.
Tip-off: Sunday, 4:00 pm ET
Line: Wisconsin -1.5, Total: 128.0
#24 Wisconsin will be hoping to improve its tournament seeding with a win over Michigan in the Big Ten title game on Sunday.
Michigan is one of the hottest teams in the nation right now, as the Wolverines have won nine of their past 11 and they have beaten some good teams in the process. Michigan has beaten Purdue twice in that span and the Wolverines also beat this same Wisconsin team as well. They also happen to be 3-0 both SU and ATS in this tournament, and they are doing so despite dealing with the scary situation with their flight to D.C. on Wednesday. Michigan’s team plane was ready to take off on Wednesday and ended up skidding off of the runway and suffering a crash. Nobody was severely injured, but the team was unable to get to the tournament that day and ended up arriving just a few hours before tip on Thursday. Wisconsin, meanwhile, has found its groove after hitting a major rough patch down the stretch. The Badgers had lost five of their past six games both SU and ATS before facing Minnesota in the final game of the regular season. Wisconsin won that game 66-49 as an eight-point home favorite and the Badgers have now won-and-covered in games against Indiana and Northwestern in the Big Ten tournament. The win over Northwestern was especially impressive, as the Badgers won 76-48 as five-point favorites in that one. They shot 47.4% from the floor for a second straight game, and they also held the Wildcats to 34.6% shooting. Despite the fact that Michigan beat Wisconsin on Feb. 16, the Badgers are 4-1 SU (1-4 ATS) against the Wolverines over the past three seasons. Wisconsin is also an impressive 10-2 ATS after two straight games where the team was called for 15 or fewer fouls this season.
Michigan was an up-and-down team throughout the year, but this team has found its groove at the right time. The guy that has really taken his game to another level for the Wolverines is G Derrick Walton Jr. (15.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.1 SPG). Walton Jr. turned the page on his season halfway through the year, and a case can be made that he has been the Big Ten’s best player over the past few months. That has not changed during this tournament either. Walton Jr. is averaging 20.0 PPG in this tournament, and he just had 29 points and nine assists in Saturday’s huge win over Minnesota. He struggled the last time he faced Wisconsin, though. Walton Jr. was just 1-for-8 from the floor in the win over the Badgers, but he should be able to turn it around here. His quickness is going to give the Badgers a ton of problems, and he’d be wise to attack the basket as much as possible. Another guy that has helped fuel Michigan’s turnaround is F Moritz Wagner (12.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.1 SPG). The sophomore has proven to be a true matchup nightmare recently, as he is 6’11’’ and hits 41.7% of his threes from the outside. If he can pull Ethan Happ away from the basket on defense then the Wolverines will have a good shot in this one. Other guys that will need to play well in this game are G Zak Irvin (12.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.0 SPG) and F D.J. Wilson (10.4 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG). Both guys can shoot the ball, but they can also attack the basket. If one of them can get hot then it’d be big for Michigan.
Wisconsin shot 38.3% from the floor against Michigan on Feb. 16, but the Badgers were in a bad way at the time and are now playing like the team that many expected them to be before the season. F Nigel Hayes (13.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 2.8 APG) has been one of the players that have taken his game to new heights since the meeting with Minnesota. Hayes had hopes of being a POTY candidate before the season, but he struggled mightily at times. He has, however, come on in the past three games. Hayes had 12 points, six boards and three assists against Minnesota on Mar. 5, and he is averaging 14.0 PPG and 9.5 RPG in two Big Ten tournament games. He will need to play a good game on both ends of the floor against Michigan or the Badgers will not win this one. F Ethan Happ (13.9 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.9 BPG, 1.2 SPG) will also need to come through to deliver a title for the Badgers. Happ had 16 points and eight rebounds in Saturday’s win over Northwestern, but the story of the game was his free throw shooting. Happ has made just 49.3% of his free throws this season, but he went 8-for-11 from the stripe on Saturday. If he can turn it around from there then the Badgers should be able to win this game and make a run in the tournament. G Bronson Koenig (14.0 PPG) is one last player that needs to be mentioned for Wisconsin. Koenig struggled against Northwestern, going just 3-for-12 from the floor and 2-for-9 from three. He will need to knock down some big shots on Sunday or the Badgers are going to lose this one.