Michigan knows Wisconsin is primed for the long game

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — When senior center Jon Teske thinks of Wisconsin, several things instantly come to mind.

There’s the Badgers’ slow style of play. There’s their efficient and methodical offense that uses up much of the shot clock. There’s their grind-it-out style of defense that can wear a team down.

None of that has changed. What has, though, is that Wisconsin has been letting if fly from beyond on the arc at a higher rate and has been relying on the 3-point shot much more than it has in recent years.

Jon Teske said facing Wisconsin is different this time around: “It's very different. Everyone that comes in and plays is a capable 3-point shooter. We have to be aware of that and we have to find the 3-point line.”

“It's very different,” Teske said Wednesday. “Everyone that comes in and plays is a capable 3-point shooter. We have to be aware of that and we have to find the 3-point line.”

Nearly 40% of Wisconsin’s offense has come from 3-point range this season. During Big Ten play, the Badgers (17-10, 10-6 Big Ten) have made a league-leading 141 3-pointers and rank second in the conference in 3-point shooting at 35.6%.

They have ridden the long ball to four straight wins and have been hot from downtown heading into Thursday’s matchup at Crisler Center. During the win streak, Wisconsin has shot 43.1% (50-for-116) from deep and has made at least 11 3-pointers in each contest.

"They do a great job of sharing the basketball,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “They're very patient offensively. They're very patient when it comes to getting into their sets and running their offense and making sure that whatever the defense throws at you, they want the defense to make a mistake. It's important for us to be very physical defensively."

It’s not just one or two players providing the bulk of the long-range damage for Wisconsin. The Badgers have five players who have made at least 25 3-pointers — redshirt junior guard D’Mitrik Trice (48 made 3-pointers, 36.9%), senior guard Brevin Pritzl (45 made 3-pointers, 37.5%), junior guard Brad Davison (41 made 3-pointers, 36%), redshirt junior forward Aleem Ford (34 made 3-pointers, 34%) and junior forward Nate Reuvers (28 made 3-pointers, 32.9%)  which will make it tougher to limit their outside attack.

And that doesn’t even include redshirt junior forward Micah Potter, who is shooting a team-best 45.7% (16-for-35) from 3-point range.

"That's challenging. They spread you out,” Howard said. “They have guys who can make 3-pointers not only from a step behind the (3-point) line, but I'm talking about two to four steps behind the line. It's going to be important that we guard the 3-point line and expect long rebounds.

“When they get the offensive rebound, they're always finding one another out there on the perimeter. We have to keep them off the glass and we have to limit their second-chance opportunities.”

While the Badgers have shot between 33.5 and 35.9% from 3-point range throughout coach Greg Gard’s five-year tenure, the difference has been a significant increase in 3-point attempts. This season, 44.8% of Wisconsin’s shot attempts have come from beyond the arc  a mark that ranks No. 30 in the nation, according to KenPom.

That 3-point number is up 10% from a year ago and is at the highest it’s been since KenPom began tracking data in 1997. Unsurprisingly, more 3-point attempts have led to more makes. When Wisconsin drains at least eight 3-pointers in a game, it is 13-2.

On the flip side, Michigan has excelled at limiting opponents’ 3-point looks and makes. The Wolverines (18-9, 9-7) have allowed 139 made 3-pointers this season, the fewest in the Big Ten, and only 27.4% of opponents’ shots are coming from beyond the arc, a mark that ranks No. 7 in the nation per KenPom.

During Michigan’s current five-game winning streak, no opponent has made more than six 3-pointers or shot better than 27% from 3-point range. In fact, the Wolverines haven’t allowed more than eight made 3-pointers — Wisconsin averages 8.6 per game — since Nebraska made nine on Jan. 28, eight games ago.

According to Teske, the key to minimizing Wisconsin’s success from 3-point range is simple: Get out to the shooters and contest every shot. Of course, that’s easier said than done.

“If they're in transition, run them off the line. When they’re within their offense, pressure the ball more and make them dribble,” Teske said. “They like to shoot a lot of the hand-down, man-down 3s, so we have to keep a hand up the whole time and give them a little pressure.”

As Teske noted, Wisconsin is still similar to the previous versions he has faced throughout this career. The Badgers still don’t give up a lot of points. They still make opponents defend deep into the shot clock. They still make teams go to their second and third options in the half-court offense. Every possession becomes a grind.

“Wisconsin has always been a team, in my opinion, who has worn me out the most in the games and after the games as far as my legs feeling it, which is kind of weird and strange because they don't really play at a fast speed as other Big Ten teams,” senior guard Zavier Simpson said. “They play hard and they're always solid. When you play against teams like that, those type of teams always have a chance to win.”

For Wisconsin, that winning formula has included a healthy helping of 3-pointers.

“Their last four wins they’ve hit like 12 or 13 3s,” Teske said. “That's half their shots. We cut that down, we'll give ourselves a shot to win.”

Wisconsin at No. 19 Michigan

Tip-off: 7 p.m. Thursday, Crisler Center, Ann Arbor

TV/radio: ESPN2/950

Records: Wisconsin 17-10, 10-6 Big Ten; Michigan 18-9, 9-7

Outlook: The first 5,000 fans will receive a pink T-shirt for Michigan’s annual Pink Game, which raises awareness for breast cancer. The Wolverines have won four of the last five meetings in the series. … Wisconsin has won four straight and is led by junior forward Nate Reuvers (13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds). The Badgers rank second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (62.2 points) and have allowed an opponent to score at least 70 points only six times.


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins