Michigan braces for Wisconsin, Frank Kaminsky

Rod Beard
The Detroit News

Chicago — With the potential for four games in four days, Michigan is preparing for a whirlwind weekend. But Michigan couldn't start to focus on the next opponent until the final seconds ticked away in Thursday's 73-55 victory over Illinois in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament.

Michigan coach John Beilein didn't want to turn the page to start game-planning for the monstrous task ahead: top-seeded Wisconsin.

"I haven't thought much about it. I didn't think one bit about Wisconsin going into the (Illinois) game," Beilein said. "You have to make tough shots and you can't give them second opportunities. You can't beat yourself because you know they aren't going to beat themselves."

Besides their all-around toughness and savvy, the Badgers also boast Big Ten player of the year Frank Kaminsky, a 7-foot center who is one of the most versatile players in the country. Kaminsky dominated the first meeting, with 22 points and nine rebounds against Michigan.

For the season, he's averaging 18.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

"I hate to think about it right now. He can shoot the three, very rare for a big man and he's great one-on-one," Beilein said. "But when you double him, he's got great vision as a passer. That's really hard to guard when he can do those three things.

"You pick your poison and try to figure it out and vary it a little bit."

The Badgers (28-3) mowed through the Big Ten and are among the contenders for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They won the only meeting with Michigan this season, a 69-64 overtime win Jan. 24 at Crisler Center.

Wisconsin's experience, discipline and versatility are the biggest worries for Beilein and his staff in trying to develop a game plan with a short turnaround, but UM's second straight win and some improved defensive play is providing some optimism.

"It's difficult because they don't beat themselves," Beilein said. "They just will make shots, use the clock. You have to make guarded shots against them; you don't get any draw-and-kick because they're not leaving your shooters."

Besides Kaminsky, the Badgers also boast Sam Dekker (13.1 points) and Nigel Hayes (12.0). Starting point guard Traevon Jackson has missed the last 14 games because of injury but they haven't missed a beat, with Bronson Koenig taking the reins.

Being the underdog isn't a problem for Beilein and UM, though, as they're taking the underdog attitude.

"We have nothing to lose right now," he said. "These kids have been through some tremendous opportunities to become better basketball players."

Walton could see action

Michigan is a different team playing with Derrick Walton Jr., who had a team-high 17 points in the first meeting with Wisconsin.

Walton has missed the last 11 games with a foot injury but participated fully in warm-up drills, leading to the thought he might be able to play against Wisconsin.

"We'll see tomorrow," Walton said.

Beilein was preparing for the possibility as well, trying to see if Walton could be pain-free in his preparation, leaving the door open for Walton to be used in special situations.

"I said, 'I want you to warm up as hard as you can and tell me if there's any pain,' " Beilein said. "He did and he said there was pain.

"I said, 'We may need you to inbound the ball late; we may need something.' But he can't push off it right now."

In recent weeks, Beilein had been optimistic that Walton could return, but the foot hasn't responded positively after workouts and short stints in practice. If it does Friday, Walton could get in the game.

"We'll continue to do this; he'll do therapy in between. I just hope one day after practice and say he's not in pain," Beilein said. "Further injury couldn't be done but if he's playing in pain, he's not going to be a very good player for us. He's thinking about that. We have to keep trying it every day.

"It's going to have to be where he comes in and says, Coach, I feel great and there's no pain at all.' "

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Michigan vs. Wisconsin

Tipoff: Noon Friday, United Center, Chicago

Records: Michigan 16-15, Wisconsin 28-3

TV/radio: ESPN/WWJ

Outlook: Michigan took the Badgers to overtime in the first meeting, but fell, 69-64. Both teams are playing for postseason possibilities — the Badgers can get a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament; UM could get in the NIT with a win and, obviously, an NCAA Tournament bid if they win the conference tournament.