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January 18, 2014

What To Watch For: U-M at Wisconsin

Michigan heads to Madison Saturday afternoon to play Wisconsin. Here are the keys to the game:

1. Playing At The Kohl Center

Freshman point guard Derrick Walton, Jr. was a year away from preschool when the Wolverines last won a game in Madison, Wis.

There are tougher places to play in the Big Ten. Indiana, Michigan State, Purdue and even Illinois have intimidating venues where it's tough to pull out a win.

But the Wolverines don't have extended losing streaks there. They beat Indiana in Bloomington in 2009, Michigan State in East Lansing in 2011 and have won their last two in Champaign.

For whatever reason, Michigan has had a brutal time at Wisconsin, losing the last 11 away games to the Badgers and 15 of the last 17.

Last year, the Wolverines got as close to pulling out a win at the Kohl Center as they have in a long, long time.

Former guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. hit a clutch three-point shot with just 2.4 seconds on the clock, giving Michigan a 60-57 lead and, seemingly, a big win.

Instead, Ben Brust hit a halfcourt miracle shot, sending the game to overtime, where the Badgers won 65-62.

After "It's going to be a big game for us," sophomore guard Nik Stauskas said after last weekend's win vs. Penn State. "Road wins come not very often in the Big Ten. You saw that last year. We thought we had them at their place, and they came back. We still have a bad taste in our mouths from that game. We're going to be hungry for that one."

2. Playing The Pace

There are very few teams in the country that play as slow and deliberate as the Wisconsin Badgers.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has built a powerhouse in Madison by focusing on terrific defense and bleeding the shot clock at the other end.

According to TeamRankings.com, the Badgers rank No. 324 nationally in possessions per game, averaging just 65.8 possessions every 40 minutes.

For comparison's sake, Northwestern State is No. 1 nationally, averaging 83.3 possessions per game, and Michigan ranks No. 89 nationally, averaging 71.9 possessions per game.

The Wolverines like to play fast. They like to grab rebounds or turnovers and push the pace to create transition opportunities.

Wisconsin is almost specifically designed to avoid that kind of play. The Badgers grab 35.0 rebounds per game and are No. 1 nationally, averaging just 8.3 turnovers per game.

Michigan is going to be out of its comfort zone, pace-wise. The Wolverines will have to play the halfcourt game, because they may not have the opportunities to push the pace and speed things up, like they have done in this season.

3. The Three-Point Shot

Wisconsin may play slowly, but the Badgers do have an extremely effective and efficient offense.

And that extends to the three-point line, where Wisconsin ranks 29th nationally in three-point shooting percentage (39.2 percent).

On the other hand, Michigan ranks No. 103 nationally in opponent three-point shooting percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 32.4 percent.

Perimeter defense will be very important for the Wolverines.

And Michigan will have to hit its own shots. The team ranks No. 48 nationally, hitting 38.3 percent of its outside shots.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin ranks 50th nationally in opponent three-point shooting percentage (30.8 percent).


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