In the past, watching a Big Ten game at Wisconsin was akin to watching a capable, but over the hill boxer beat an overmatched challenger - ugly, but effective. Now, though, the Badgers have offense to go with their defense, and it's made them the favorite to win the Big Ten given their favorable schedule.
Wisconsin is second in the conference in turnovers and has allowed teams to make only 27.1 percent of threes and 42.3 percent of twos. The Wolverines have scored only .92 points per possession against the Badgers under head coach John Beilein - they've averaged 1.2 in the Big Ten this year - and Bo Ryan, with a little help from the basketball gods, has an 11-1 record against Beilein.
Defense, then, will be paramount. So, too, will making the most of their possessions, starting with shooting guard Nik Stauskas.
Stauskas, coming off a 21-point, five-assist game in a win over Penn State, made only one of his nine, three-point attempts in two losses to the Badgers last year and scored a combined nine points. He might need to double that in one game alone Saturday night (6 p.m.) forU-M to have a chance against the No. 4 Badgers, coming off their first loss of the season at Indiana.
"They did a really good job guarding ball-screens," Stauskas recalled. "When I'd come off ball-screens last year I remember the big man would kind of sag back and make me shoot that in-between jumper that's a lot tougher than just a wide open three. They also did a good job denying me the ball and not letting me get open threes."
Stauskas is shooting 49.7 percent from the floor, including 45.1 percent from long range. He's gotten much stronger with the ball this year, having excelled with the pick and roll, and believes the Badgers won't be able to take away everything in his arsenal.
If they do, Michigan will remain winless at the Kohl Center since 1999, their last victory at Wisconsin.
"They really don't make a lot of mistakes," Stauskas said. "They're really sound defensively and offensively. We've got to play pretty much a perfect game to win."
The big men, too, will have to continue to play well. Fifth-year senior Jordan Morgan is averaging 8.5 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes per conference game, shooting a Big Ten-best 82.4 percent from the field. Redshirt junior Jon Horford is 14-for-21 from the field and averages 8.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
Michigan players have assisted on 62.5 percent of their made field goals, leading the league, and the Wolverines are also tips in field-goal percentage, total assists (65), assists per game (16.3) and assist-to-turnover ratio (1.91).
Still, Wisconsin is favored by eight points for a reason.
"As much as I'd like to put a lot of weight on this game, every game for us is big," Morgan said. "We want to win championships, and our next opportunity is winning the Big Ten championship.
"With a young team like this, we can't take any game more seriously than any other game. From my experience in this league, no matter how good you are, you can't do that."