Bet Michigan to cover vs. Wisconsin in your NCAAB Picks

Willie Bee

Saturday, January 18, 2014 6:24 PM GMT

Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 6:24 PM GMT

Twenty-one games on Saturday's college basketball card involve teams ranked in the top 25 of this week's AP Poll, and one of the biggest matchups is in the Big Ten where the Michigan Wolverines travel to Wisconsin to meet the Badgers.

ESPN will carry the contest from Kohl Center in Madison starting at 6 PM (ET), as the Wolverines try to stay unbeaten on the conference schedule while the Badgers look to bounce back from their one and only loss of the campaign. SBR's live NCAA basketball odds sent Wisconsin out as an 8.5 point favorite, that number now -8.

This series has belonged to the Badgers in recent years with Wisconsin picking up the dubya in 12 of the previous 13 meetings. That includes a current 11-0 run over Michigan in Madison where the Wolverines have never beaten a Bo Ryan-coached team.

Wisconsin won both clashes last season, including a 68-59 win in the Big Ten Tournament as a 2-point underdog. It took a Ben Brust 40-footer at the end of regulation to keep the Badgers' streak alive at Kohl Center during the regular season. The desperation heave forced overtime against then-No. 3 Michigan, and Wisconsin completed the comeback with a 65-62 victory that needed the extra time to just skip past the total and stop a 6-game run for the 'under' in the series.

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Wolverines Out To Extend 6-Game Win Streak

Maybe turnabout will be fair play for John Beilein's troops who are the unranked side this time against the No. 3 Badgers, a reverse of the setting in last year's regular season get-together. Michigan (12-4 straight up, 7-6-1 against the spread) is carrying a 6-game win streak into Madison and off to a 4-0 start in conference play as the Wolverines slowly but surely try to climb back into the polls after sitting No. 7/9 in the preseason rankings.

The list at KenPom.com still has the Wolverines in the top 20, partly due to a pretty tough schedule. We know now that their loss at Iowa State in mid-November wasn't as bad as many thought at the time, and the tough 2-point loss to Arizona about a month ago is as close as any team has come to beating the top-ranked Wildcats. That setback to Arizona came in just the second game Michigan played without forward Mitch McGary due to a back injury, and taking the talented sophomore out of the lineup is a big loss for the Wolverines inside. There's still no word on when, or if, McGary will be able to return to action.

McGary's absence has translated into more minutes for Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, and that pair has done an outstanding job filling in for McGary. Nick Stauskas remains the best scoring threat, but freshman Derrick Walton, Jr. is becoming a more integral part of the offense now that he's gaining experience in Beilein's schemes.

Can Badgers Avoid 1st-Loss Hangover?

As tough as Kohl Center has been for the Wolverines, this is certainly not slam-dunk bounce-back spot for Wisconsin (16-1 SU, 9-6-2). It's never easy for a team to put its first loss in the rearview mirror quickly, and the Badgers might be playing with two of their starters at less than 100% for Saturday's matchup.

Point guard Traevon Jackson is dealing with an eye issue after getting poked in Tuesday's 75-72 loss at Indiana where the Badgers were laying four points on the NCAA odds, and one of his backcourt mates, Josh Gasser, has a sore back. Both are listed as probable.

Wisconsin continued to shoot well in the setback at the Hoosiers, but Ben Brust didn't have his touch from outside (1-of-7 from 3-point land), and the Badgers weren't able to get to the free-throw line as much as usual. Wisconsin went to Bloomington averaging more than 15 points per game from the charity stripe, but scored just once from the line in the defeat.

My decision to take the points at the Wolverines for my free NCAA basketball pick boils down to two factors: 1) Believing Beilein will have his squad mentally ready, and; 2) the Badgers suffering a little hangover from their first loss.

My pick: Michigan +8

Season: 20-11 (+7.9)

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