On Dec. 30, 1999, when the Michigan men’s basketball team last won in Madison, sophomore point guard Trey Burke was just seven years old and coach John Beilein was three years away from leaving Richmond for West Virginia. Since then, 10 Wolverine teams have failed at what No. 3 Michigan will attempt to do on Saturday — emerge victorious at the Kohl Center, where Wisconsin has won five of its last six meetings against top-five teams.
In the teams’ only contest last year, the Wolverines bested the Badgers, 59-41, in Ann Arbor to snap a nine-game losing skid to Wisconsin. Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr., fresh off one of his best games this season in a win over Ohio State on Tuesday, carried Michigan in last year’s matchup, scoring a game-high 17 points and pulling down 10 rebounds for one of his two double-doubles last year.
A key to last season’s win was the Wolverines’ ability to outrebound the Badgers, largely due to the effort of then-redshirt sophomore forward Jordan Morgan. Morgan had 11 rebounds — five of which came on the offensive end — as Michigan won the battle of the boards, 38-29, and scored 13 second-chance points.
But Morgan has played just six combined minutes in the Wolverines’ last two contests after spraining his ankle two minutes into the Jan. 27 game at Illinois. His status for Saturday is unknown.
“Hopefully he’ll be ready to go this weekend,” Beilein said after Tuesday’s win. “We need him back.”
Redshirt sophomore forward Jon Horford has filled Morgan’s void in the starting lineup, but freshman forward Mitch McGary has received the brunt of Morgan’s minutes.
McGary played 29 minutes in the win over the Buckeyes, scoring 14 points and collecting six rebounds and four steals. But Ohio State and Indiana both outscored Michigan (8-2 Big Ten, 21-2 overall) in the paint and registered a combined 30 second-chance points, exploiting a Wolverine defense that suffered from more defensive breakdowns than normal.
“(Morgan) would’ve helped us a little bit, because the angles that Jon and Mitch are playing are much like the angles Jordan used to play with way back when,” Beilein said after Tuesday’s overtime win.
Burke had a relatively quiet game against Wisconsin (7-3, 16-7) last year, recording just two assists, but was defended by all-everything guard Jordan Taylor, who graduated last season. Taylor’s would-be replacement, Josh Gasser, tore his ACL just days before the season began and is out for the year.
The Badgers struggled in the season’s onset, dropping games to mediocre Virginia and Marquette teams, but have settled into more of a groove in conference play under veteran coach Bo Ryan. Wisconsin upset Indiana in Assembly Hall three weeks ago.
The game will likely be decided on Michigan’s offensive end, especially if the Wolverines can operate in transition, something they struggled to do against Ohio State. The Badgers, known for taking opponents out of their rhythm by forcing them to play at a slow tempo, currently rank 11th in scoring defense nationally (56.2 points per game). Michigan ranks sixth nationally with a 41.2-percent 3-point shooting mark, but Wisconsin holds opponents to just 30.6 percent shooting from deep.
“The key to beating the Badgers is just being solid,” said senior guard Josh Bartelstein in his weekly blog on www.mgoblue.com. “We cannot beat ourselves taking bad shots or going for steals. They are known for holding the ball for all 35 seconds and making you guard them for the entire shot clock. If you take a second off or don’t box out, you are going to get burned.”