Ascending Wolverines brace for top-10 test against ‘elite’ Badgers

Wisconsin is one of the most efficient and experienced teams in the nation….

Ascending Wolverines brace for top-10 test against ‘elite’ Badgers
Ascending Wolverines brace for top-10 test against 'elite' Badgers 1

James Hawkins
| The Detroit News

Over 300 days have passed since Michigan last suffered a loss at Crisler Center. But it doesn’t take much to remind coach Juwan Howard what happened on that Feb. 27 night.

All one has to do is mention one name: Wisconsin guard D’Mitrik Trice.

“Trice was tough, man,” Howard said Monday. “I appreciate you reminding me of that. Now I’m not going to get any sleep.”

In that meeting, Trice took advantage of a Michigan defense that was without guard Eli Brooks, who was sidelined with a broken nose, and torched the Wolverines for 28 points in one of the best offensive performances in his five-year career.

More: Unbeaten Michigan climbs to No. 7 in AP college basketball poll; MSU drops out

This time around, Brooks will be available to play after getting a tooth knocked out in last week’s win over Minnesota and will try to keep Trice in check during Tuesday’s top-10 showdown in Ann Arbor.

“He’s one of the elite guards in the country,” Howard said. “He also has a lot of experience, a lot of the sets run through him. He does a very good job of shooting off ball screens. He can create his own shot. He’s a tough guard for anyone.”

Yet, Trice is just one of the many threats on a Wisconsin team that returned the core of its rotation after winning a share of the Big Ten regular-season title a year ago. Five players are averaging at least 9.8 points per game on a squad that ranks in the top 10 nationally in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency.

On top of that, the ninth-ranked Badgers are one of the most experienced teams in the nation, with a starting lineup that features three fifth-year players — forward Micah Potter, forward Aleem Ford and Trice — and two seniors — guard Brad Davison and forward Nate Reuvers.

Add it all up and it provides No. 7 Michigan with its toughest test yet.

“I would say is there’s no hesitance, there’s no glitches (in their play),” senior forward Isaiah Livers said. “They’ve been playing basketball for a very long time. They’re well experienced. They’re vets. When you’re going against vets, they’re going to cut, they’re going to grab offensive rebounds, they’re going to do all the little things right.

“That’s what’s dangerous about all those seniors being on one team. They’re all going to do the little things right. They’re not going to go for home-run plays. They’re very disciplined. They’re smart. They’re not going to take a quick shot if they don’t have to. They’d rather run the shot clock down to lull us to sleep and get a better shot that they want. Those teams are really hard to guard because they’re very crafty.”

Livers added over the years he’s faced Wisconsin, not much has changed with its winning formula.

The Badgers boast one of the stingiest defenses in the Big Ten that slows the tempo down and forces opponents to grind out offensive possessions. Howard noted Wisconsin has excelled at making teams play in a crowd, cutting off drives to the paint, contesting without fouling and limiting second-chance opportunities.

Subscription: ‘They’re as good as it gets’: Wolverines making their case in Big Ten chase

On the flip side, Wisconsin forces foes to defend its patient and methodical attack deep into the shot clock and guard multiple actions. One difference this year is the Badgers are shooting the 3-pointer better than ever, at a 41.4% clip that ranks fifth in the nation, which only adds to the difficulty.

“They have a lot of the same tendencies,” Livers said. “They’re just doing it at a high level this year with some great talent they have. …We’re all excited because this is a huge challenge to see how long we can defend being disciplined without fouling.”

It’s all part of the reason why Wisconsin was pegged as one of the favorites to win the Big Ten this season, a conversation that Michigan is starting to enter thanks to another sterling start.

But unlike last season’s meteoric rise up the rankings, Livers said the Wolverines can’t get “sucked into the hype” and they must keep their focus on the now — not on future goals — to avoid another drop-off.

“We worked really hard for it, but it’s not the end,” Livers said. “Coach Howard had a wonderful thing he said after the (Minnesota) game was, ‘Yeah, we’re 10-0, but it doesn’t stop here. Our goal wasn’t to be 10-0. Our goal was to win championships.’ I feel like it’s heading on the right track.

“Last year, guys could’ve fell off maybe just a little bit by thinking about that national ranking. We had a great start to our season and some guys could’ve got complacent. We all know that it can turn like this.”

As Michigan goes from the hunter to the hunted once again, Howard said the Wolverines are no longer flying under the radar but remain grounded as they head into another conference battle against another ranked opponent.

“Everyone in the country and college basketball knows that the Big Ten is one of the toughest conferences,” Howard said. “We’re playing against one of the elite level teams in the Big Ten.

“We’re going to continue to keep finding ways on how we can get better. We know it’s early in the season and we don’t think that the season is over today or tomorrow. We’ve got to keep forging ahead.”

No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 7 Michigan

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ESPN/950

Records: Wisconsin 10-2, 4-1 Big Ten; Michigan 10-0, 5-0

Outlook: Fifth-year senior center Austin Davis (foot) could return after missing five games and will be a game-time decision. …Among Big Ten teams, Wisconsin ranks first in scoring defense (61.5 points), 3-point shooting (41.4%) and turnover margin (4.17) and second in field-goal percentage defense (38.9%). …The Badgers are led by fifth-year senior guard D’Mitrik Trice (14.8 points) and fifth-year senior forward Micah Potter (12.5 points, seven rebounds).

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins

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