Six days ago, No. 13 Michigan’s lone regular season contest against Wisconsin looked much more daunting than it does now.
In the past week, the 18th-ranked Badgers, who had been 160-12 at home under head coach Bo Ryan, dropped two straight at the Kohl Center.
On New Year’s Eve, then-9-6 Iowa, who had been blown out by Campbell and Northern Iowa earlier in the season, took down Wisconsin, 72-65.
Three nights later, the Badgers (1-2 Big Ten, 12-4 overall) lost a 63-60 overtime heartbreaker to Michigan State. Wisconsin almost managed to erase a 7-point deficit in the last 30 seconds of the extra frame when Badger guard Ryan Evans banked in a 3-point heave to tie it at the buzzer. But as it turned out, the game clock above the backboard wasn’t aligned with the other clocks posted in the arena and the basket was waved off.
“That’s the correct ruling,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “Unfortunately, the clocks weren’t in sync. Now which one is the right one? Is one running slightly ahead or is one running slightly behind? The way I understand the rule, it’s what’s ever on that backboard. If that light goes up, that’s the one.”
The call sealed the Badgers’ third home loss of the season and gave them their worst Big Ten start since 2002.
After a slow start to his season, senior point guard Jordan Taylor has scored 20 points per game in Big Ten play, dropping 28 on the Spartans on Tuesday. He also dishes out nearly five assists per game and boasts a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Junior Jared Berggren has picked up the production in the post the Badgers lost after the graduation of Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil. He averages 12 points and five rebounds per game.
“They’re a really good team, they’re tough,” said senior guard Zack Novak. “We know we got a big challenge coming.”
Michigan (2-1, 12-3) took care of the Big Ten bottom dwellers in its first two games before falling to Indiana last night, 73-71.
Sophomore forward Tim Hardaway Jr. has struggled with his shot recently, and the Wolverines have had to count on other players for scoring.
Though Hardaway Jr. had a team-high 19 points on Thursday, only one of his field goals wasn’t a layup and he missed two crucial 3-pointers in the final two minutes.
Over the last two games, he is 9-for-33 from the field and has missed his last 12 3-point attempts.
But on Wednesday, he didn’t appear fazed by his shooting struggles.
“You got to go out there and get reps if your shot isn’t falling,” Hardaway Jr. said. “Just got to go out there and get reps on the practice floor and keep shooting.
“(Mentally), it didn’t bother me at all. Just go out there and just shoot the next one and keep your head up and just make sure the next one’s going in.”
Against Minnesota on Sunday, freshman point guard Trey Burke took on the scoring load, making 8 of 11 shots and notching a career-high 27 points in the Wolverines’ 61-56 victory.
And on Thursday, while Burke and Hardaway Jr. were drawing iron all evening, senior guard Stu Douglass knocked down three 3-pointers and redshirt sophomore center Jordan Morgan made six of his seven field goal attempts.
Sunday, when the Badgers come to Crisler Center, the Wolverines won’t be able to afford a bad shooting day. Wisconsin’s ability to work the shot clock leads to longer possessions and Michigan tends to adapt to the tempo of the opposition. This means fewer possessions for both teams, and the Wolverines will need to capitalize on their chances.
“We’ve got to come back, change our pace, change our mindset completely, and just worry about protecting home court,” Douglass said. “We want to run when we can, but with Wisconsin, we know we have to value every single possession. We didn’t really do that in this game. We can’t have that same mindset we did today on Sunday.”
Notes: The newly built Player Development Center for the men’s and women’s teams will be dedicated this weekend. Wolverine alumni Cazzie Russell, Rudy Tomjanovich, Phil Hubbard, Daniel Horton and Campy Russell are expected to be on hand at the event Sunday before the game.