The college basketball season is a mystery in some ways but is becoming clear in others. The Michigan Wolverines are a mystery, but it is clear that the Big Ten is one of the two best conferences in the country. When Michigan hosts the Wisconsin Badgers on Tuesday night, we’re going to learn a lot more about an unbeaten team which is in the top eight of the national rankings, but still has to prove just how good it is.
Wisconsin vs. Michigan
The Michigan Wolverines haven’t lost, which is certainly a positive and welcome development in Ann Arbor, where head coach Juwan Howard is trying to do something he already achieved at Michigan as a player: Lead the Wolverines to the national championship game of the NCAA Tournament. Howard did that as a member of the famed “Fab Five” recruiting class under then-coach Steve Fisher in 1992 and 1993. Howard is recruiting extremely well at Michigan and has his program headed in the right direction. Yet, the extent to which Michigan is ready to compete for the Final Four and the national title is still relatively unknown.
The great news for Michigan is it has won all but one of its games by a double-digit margin. The exception was a four-point win over Penn State in the middle of December. In every other game, Michigan has wrapped things up well before the final horn.
Why, then, is Michigan a mystery? Simple: Michigan played a relatively soft non-conference schedule. The Wolverines have also played the lower end of the Big Ten. Michigan has played Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland, and Northwestern, with its one high-end matchup coming against Minnesota… and that was at home. Minnesota has been a bad road team, so even then, Michigan didn’t get an especially daunting assignment. It can be said that Wisconsin is the first elite team Michigan has played so now we’re going to find out more about how tough the Wolverines actually are.
Wisconsin won the Big Ten championship last season and remains highly ranked. However, the Badgers have stumbled a few times, most notably against Marquette and Maryland. They nearly lost to Indiana a few days ago but survived in overtime. The Badgers have balance, depth, and experience, but they still arrive at a game every now and then in which they aren’t especially focused and energetic. It’s safe to say the Badgers will need to lock in and bring their A-game if they want to give Michigan its first loss of the season on Tuesday.
The Badgers can be inconsistent, but their ceiling is high, and they have a reputation for starting the season slowly but then rounding into form and establishing a higher level of consistency. It’s what happened last season with Wisconsin. It’s still likely to happen this season. The Badgers won in Michigan last year; they can do the same this year.
Prediction: Wisconsin 72, Michigan 67
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