CHICAGO — The roles this weekend would’ve been reversed, if not for a prayer of a shot attempt.
The Michigan men’s basketball team would’ve been the No. 4 seed and earned a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, and Wisconsin would’ve been the No. 5 seed, forced to play Penn State on Thursday.
The two programs had identical records in the regular season, but only one meeting, so a head-to-head tiebreaker decided the seeds for the Tournament.
Wisconsin won the head-to-head tiebreaker in that game in early February, when the Badgers needed a buzzer-beating prayer of a half-court heave from guard Ben Brust to tie the game in regulation. The Wolverines officially lost in overtime, but they looked understandably shaken going into the extra period. The contest was effectively decided on that last shot.
The two teams weren’t scheduled to meet again, but another game is in the cards after Michigan (13-6 Big Ten, 26-6 overall) handled Penn State on Thursday night.
The Wolverines had a slow start against Penn State, getting themselves into a 14-3 hole before climbing back before halftime. Against a Wisconsin team that shoots the ball well and has a defensive philosophy based on slowing down the ball to prevent big runs, though, an early deficit that large will be a lot bigger hole than it was against Penn State.
Even though Michigan will be playing its second game in two days on Friday, fatigue shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Wisconsin plays at a very slow tempo on offense while trying to force its opponents into the same style of tempo on the other end.
The Badgers will work the shot clock all the way down, passing the ball around and around until that perfect shot opportunity presents itself.
Junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. warned that Michigan can’t get “lulled” by their offense and needs to stay alert defensively the entire possession, while sophomore guard Trey Burke said that rebounding and not giving up second-chance opportunities are going to be crucial against the slow-paced Badgers.
The common theme, though, was that fundamentals on both sides of the floor are going to be the key on Friday.
“One thing that you can expect is the same old winning, don’t-beat-yourself style that we have seen over and over again,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “We’re the victim of two buzzer beaters against them as well as about 10 of shot-clock time over the six years I’ve been coaching against them.
“They’re not going to turn it over. Be very patient with our defense and solid with our defense. Make them score over us, without giving them second opportunities. Same speech I’ve given any time. A really well-coached, really good team.”