The last time Michigan and Wisconsin met on the hardcourt on Jan. 22, Wisconsin center Mike Wilkinson was close to unstoppable, scoring 28 points and grabbing 15 rebounds. Michigan coach Tommy Amaker didn’t hesitate to describe the performance as “flawless” after the game, a 72-61 loss for the Wolverines.
Flash forward to tonight. When Michigan (3-8 Big Ten, 12-13 overall) heads to the Kohl Center to face No. 20 Wisconsin (7-4, 16-6) again, the Wolverines’ frontcourt will have to try and slow Wilkinson down once again. That may be a tough order, as the trio of Michigan big men — junior Chris Hunter and sophomores Brent Petway and Courtney Sims — have fallen on hard times recently.
All three forwards have hit scoring slumps — they each have scored below their season average over the last five games. Against Michigan State on Saturday, the trio scored just 11 points.
While all three have had flashes of dominance in individual games, Michigan’s three forwards have not been able to put together consistent performances. Amaker didn’t hesitate to point to one of the key reasons for the recent losses.
“They have to finish when they have it inside,” Amaker said. “This is an area we need to do a much better job, particularly (Hunter and Sims).”
It might seem surprising that Hunter, Sims and Petway are all currently shooting above 50 percent on the season, but the trio has taken about half the number of shots compared to Michigan’s backcourt. This would explain why, during certain games, one of the three will explode, but then be kept in check the next.
“I think we’re really good in spurts but also have lapses,” Sims said. “Those lapses have killed us (recently).”
In addition to the scoring, Michigan has struggled to gain an advantage on the glass. With Petway listed at 6-foot-8 and Hunter and Sims at 6-foot-11, it would seem that Michigan should have a rebounding advantage. But over the last seven games, the Wolverines have failed to grab at least 10 rebounds on the offensive end. Because Michigan has been trying to run a slow-down offense in recent games, the Wolverines will need as many chances on offense end as possible.
Amaker believes that the team has been improving over the past few games and is pleased with the effort of his players. He stated that, if his big men can start to play consistently, Michigan might be able to end its current eight-game losing streak.
“We need to be able to put ourselves in a position to win,” Amaker said. “In the last few games, we’ve been in position to make a few plays and be in a position to win.”
Being in a position to win in Madison will be extremely challenging. The Badgers have lost just one game at the Kohl Center over the past four years — to No. 1 Illinois three weeks ago.
“We know how difficult it is to play Wisconsin, regardless of where we play them,” Amaker said. “Playing them in Madison has become close to impossible. It’s an opportunity for our team and a chance to get better.”