Just a week ago, it would have been hard to imagine Wisconsin basketball in this position — about to play Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament finals.
The Badgers had lost five of six and were set to limp their way into the postseason. Then they beat Minnesota to get the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Then they beat Indiana. Then they demolished Northwestern. All told, the Badgers won those three games by an average score of 71-52.
“We can play complete basketball,” Nigel Hayes said after the Northwestern win. “Most of the year, we’ve been playing ‘defense only,’ but it’s a lot easier when the ball goes in on the other side. If we continue to play aggressive like we are — and that’s what coach has been telling us, ‘to play aggressive, to play free, to play confident’ — if we continue to do that and play well on defense, we’ll be pretty good.”
Another win would give Wisconsin the Big Ten Tournament title, the first conference title of Greg Gard’s head coaching career, and a legitimate shot at a top-4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin was most recently estimated to be a No. 6 seed by bracketologists before the Northwestern win, so it’s likely in need of a major bump. The reason why that’s so important is it would give the Badgers a better shot at opening March Madness before a de facto home crowd in Milwaukee.
But first, Michigan. Wisconsin split the season series against the Wolverines, with both teams winning at home. Michigan has been a similar program in style of play to Wisconsin under coach John Beilein: slower-paced, disciplined, efficient. Now the two square off for a conference tournament title.
Michigan basketball vs. Wisconsin game time, details
Time: 2 p.m. CT/3 p.m. ET
Date: Sunday, March 12
Location: Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.
The line: Wisconsin is a 2-point favorite.
What TV channel broadcasts Michigan basketball vs. Wisconsin?
The game will be broadcast on CBS.
How can I watch Michigan basketball vs. Wisconsin online?
CBS will live-stream the game at CBSSports.com, as well as on the CBS Sports app.
How can I listen to Michigan basketball vs. Wisconsin on the radio?
For Michigan basketball, 950 AM (WWJ-Detroit), 102.9 FM (WWWW-Ann Arbor) and 1050 AM (WTKA-Ann Arbor) are the primary stations. Click here for other Michigan radio affiliates. Michigan’s radio crew includes play-by-play announcer Matt Shepard and analyst Terry Mills.
Who is calling the game for CBS?
Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill will work the game for CBS.
Two keys for Wisconsin
Bronson’s back: The Badgers were without guard Bronson Koenig for the first time since 2013 during their loss to Michigan in February, and in his place started an overwhelmed D’Mitrik Trice. In the six games he’s started since then, Koenig has averaged 17.3 points while looking very much like the clutch shooter Wisconsin needs him to be. Considering how quickly the Wisconsin offense falls off the rails when it can’t find a second scorer behind Happ, Koenig’s presence should be a major factor.
Stay smothering on defense: Since getting its doors blown off by Ohio State, and then Michigan State, Wisconsin’s defense has returned with a vengeance. In their last four games, the Badgers have allowed only 53.5 points per game on 36.9 percent shooting. Wisconsin faced three of the Big Ten’s four highest-scoring teams in that stretch: Iowa (first, 80.2 points), Minnesota (fourth, 75.3) and Indiana (third, 79.8). The question now is how Greg Gard uses his two defensive aces in Happ and Zak Showalter against a patient Michigan team that has plenty of scoring options and depth.
Two keys for Michigan
Stay together when things get rocky: Michigan has already done this, correct? The Wolverines showed the value of teamwork when evacuating a plane that aborted takeoff and skidded off the runway in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Wednesday. Then, in a conference semifinal against Minnesota, when the Golden Gophers tied the game at 55-55 in the second half, Michigan coach John Beilein pulled his team together during a timeout and gave it some strong words: Stay together. “There was no yelling or screaming,” Beilein said after the win against Minnesota. “Settle down, we know what we have to do. Let’s guard defense. Let’s be together as a team.”
Play strong on the boards, under the basket: Minnesota outrebounded Michigan 38-24, but Michigan capitalized in transition and found ways to score off turnovers — the Wolverines scored 20 points off eight turnovers against the Golden Gophers. Michigan has averaged 30 rebounds in three tournament games, including 38 in a 74-70 overtime upset of top-seeded Purdue. But Michigan needs to establish an inside presence against Wisconsin, especially against Badgers center Ethan Happ, who can dominate in the paint. In two tournament games, the 6-foot-10 Happ has 30 points and 20 rebounds.
Land of 10’s Rachel Lenzi contributed to this report.