Tonight, the scenario is very simple for the Michigan men’s basketball team: David must beat Goliath, or in this case, the No. 2 team in the nation, Wisconsin.
The Wolverines have plenty of motivation for this game; they have an opportunity to be tied for first in the Big Ten and gain more national respect. But it’ll be hard to defeat the Badgers – whose 41-2 conference record at home under coach Bo Ryan makes them more than just a Goliath at the Kohl Center. They’re Goliath on steroids.
Wisconsin’s only two Big Ten losses at home under Ryan have come against Illinois when the Illini were ranked No. 1 in 2005 and No. 6 last season.
This year, the Badgers have begun 3-0 at home against conference foes, including a big 72-69 win over then-No. 5 Ohio State. To make matters more difficult for Michigan, Wisconsin is riding a 15-game winning streak, the longest in school history.
According to Michigan coach Tommy Amaker, ambiance isn’t what makes the Kohl Center so deadly to conference competition.
“Everybody has fans and they’re going to cheer and be excited and do those kinds of things to help you,” Amaker said. “But (Wisconsin has) great players and they’ve had really great teams.”
The Badgers boast one of the best lineups in the nation, which starts with senior Alando Tucker, the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year.
Tucker leads the team with 19 points per game this season, and is second on the team in assists (41) and steals (19).
To stop Wisconsin’s best player, Amaker doesn’t plan to assign one specific person to defend Tucker for the entire game. Rather, the job of defending one of the Big Ten’s most dynamic player will be a team effort.
“We’ve never been able to play a guy like (Tucker with) just one guy,” Amaker said. “We have to help off with certain guys. They have a very balanced team, so I’m not sure (focusing on Tucker) is the answer. You have to see if you can contain him a little bit.”
Junior Kammron Taylor sits alongside Tucker at guard. Taylor notched 25 points and five rebounds in the Badgers’ win over the Buckeyes and is second on the team in scoring (13 points per game).
The biggest threat defensively is junior guard Michael Flowers, who leads Wisconsin with 39 steals and should present problems on the perimeter for Michigan.
“With Taylor and Flowers, their quickness is the first thing I think of,” Amaker said. “They can get after the ball and they can play anywhere you want to play. . Flowers is one of those kids who plays bigger than he is. He can cause damage and cause havoc in the post.”
Tonight’s game has the potential to be a watermark for the Michigan basketball program. Marred in mediocrity for the past six seasons, the much-maligned Amaker has nothing more than two trips to the NIT and plenty of grief from fans hanging over his.
But the Wolverines have the unique opportunity to not only take a share of the Big Ten, but to do it at an unwelcoming conference arena.
“That’s such a tough place to play and not many people in the Big Ten have won on the road period,” senior Brent Petway said. “Just winning a game on the road, and then against the No. 2 team in the nation, and then being in Madison, . (it) would be a big win.”