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The games just keep getting bigger and bigger. We're still unsure what exactly to make of this Wisconsin team, but due to its non-conference wins, it stands with a No. 6 RPI despite five losses in the period of six games. Michigan only has two conference losses, but it's likely that the loss to Charlotte is weighing them down a bit with a No. 13 RPI.
The Badgers don't have an impressive win on the road yet, but will get two prime chances to do that, in this game and then at Iowa next week. They've lost to the likes of Indiana and Minnesota on the road, but are on a three-game winning streak that includes a win at Illinois and against Michigan State. Are they back to their early season form that saw them start with 16 straight wins?
The Wolverines are a different story being on top of the Big Ten, but with one more overall loss than Wisconsin. They still have yet to lose a home game though which is telling. Granted, their hardest opponent in Ann Arbor this year was Iowa and not much else. After the Badgers, they'll get the Spartans next weekend.
When Michigan won in Madison back on Jan. 18, the Badgers were just starting their losing slide. Nevertheless, the Wolverines were victorious on the road shooting close to 55 percent as a team and 7-of-13 from the three-point line. Those are extremely impressive numbers against Wisconsin. The fact that Derrick Walton Jr. only had two points in that game isn't good news either as he's steadily improved with every game this year. Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert combined for 43 points and that was that.
Another difference from that game was Nigel Hayes of Wisconsin, who only played 16 minutes and scored seven points. There's no question that Michigan will need to game-plan for Hayes this time around. He's on a tear at the moment, scoring at least 14 points in four straight games. Not only can he shoot a deep jumper, but if matched with a slower defender, Hayes can take him to the rack. His likely matchup will be Jon Horford, but that could change later in the game, especially when Frank Kaminsky is in the game. Michigan may have to use Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan at the same time, otherwise they'll be at a major height disadvantage down low.
The rest of Wisconsin's game depends on how they shoot. If Ben Brust, Josh Gasser, Sam Dekker and even Traevon Jackson have trouble, then they'll lose the game. But as the Badgers have won three straight, they are all finding their stroke again including Brust who was 4-for-4 from three on Thursday.
So the problem for the Wolverines is that while also paying attention down low, they'll have to guard the perimeter as tightly as possible. But on the other end, they can't expect to shoot as well as they did last game against the Badgers.
Stauskas averages 16.9 points per game on the year, but hasn't reached that mark in five games. Then there's Glenn Robinson III who's in a bit of a shooting slump himself. LeVert and Waltor Jr. will be keys on both ends of the floor. The x-factor for Michigan is Zak Irvin, who is averaging 15 points in his last three games, but only 7.6 on the year.
The Badgers would love to win this game and with Hayes down low, they may have a better chance of winning than last time these teams played. Then again, the Wolverines won't be easy to take down on their home court.
Predicted Score - Michigan 71 Wisconsin 68
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