Led by Mo Wagner early and Zak Irvin late, Michigan pulled away from Wisconsin on its home floor for a critical 64-58 victory that could do wonders for the Wolverines’ NCAA Tournament resume.
Wagner finished with a game-high 21 points and Irvin added 18, as Michigan (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten) outscored the No. 11-ranked Badgers 19-11 over the final 9 minutes, 34 seconds.
Wisconsin (21-5, 10-3) struggled without guard Bronson Koenig. He’s nursing an undisclosed leg injury and is considered day-to-day. Prior to Thursday, when D’Mitrik Trice will got the start, the Badgers had sent out the same lineup for 38 straight games.
Wisconsin forward Ethan Happ led all scorers with 22 points.
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Wisconsin basketball vs. Michigan game time, details
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Crisler Center, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Betting odds: Michigan -2.5
Wisconsin vs. Michigan basketball preview
Wisconsin keys to the game
Rebound from loss to Northwestern: The Wildcats provided a blueprint for the rest of the Big Ten in their 66-59 win against the Badgers on Sunday, and it centers on double-teaming Ethan Happ. The sophomore center is a gifted passer for a big man — he leads the Badgers in assists in conference play — but he struggled to exploit vulnerabilities created by the extra man. With the Badgers shooting just 37.5 percent in their last five games, they are running low on reasons why defenses shouldn’t just swarm on Happ whenever the Big Ten Player of the Year candidate touches the ball.
Find someone to pick up slack for injured Koenig: Bronson Koenig has been struggling with a leg injury for the last few weeks, limiting the Badgers’ top 3-point shooter at a time when they have a clear need for someone like him on offense. Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said after the game Sunday that the main issue created by the injury was Koenig losing speed off screens — but he’s also been a non-factor on defense and is shooting just 25.5 percent from the field overall in his last five games. Koenig getting back to full health will be a priority as the Badgers gear up for a Big Ten Tournament run that could be key in deciding their seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Michigan keys to the game
Don’t ignore the bottom line: With its win Sunday at Indiana, Michigan helped its NCAA Tournament chances. But the Wolverines still remain squarely on the bubble, and needs to be consistent. A win against Wisconsin would help Michigan’s chances, but that’s almost putting the cart before the horse. Michigan also attempts to do this against one of the Big Ten’s consistent teams: Wisconsin can finish out games, and will have an added incentive against Michigan — Wisconsin’s loss at Northwestern was the Badgers’ first loss in more than a month. “They’re not beating themselves,” Beilein said. “They’re just not going to beat themselves, and you can’t beat yourself.”
Continue an aggressive pace of play: While Walton has been the star as of late, averaging 23 points in his last five games, sophomore forward Moritz Wagner has shown a new side of his game with a certain level of aggressiveness. That’s shown both in Wagner’s demeanor on the court and in his statistics; Wagner scored 11 points and had a game-high 10 rebounds Sunday at Indiana, and has averaged 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds in his last five games. Michigan needs its players to continue that aggressive pace as it begins the final three weeks of the regular season.