Can Michigan defy the college basketball odds and hang in the Big Ten race without its leading scorer? The Wolverines can take a step forward Saturday in proving they can against Wisconsin on Saturday.
John Beilein knows his Michigan Wolverines caught a break on the schedule in their first game without top scorer Chris LeVert. He also knows there will be no such break Saturday when the Maize & Blue face the task of beating the No. 5/6 Wisconsin Badgers.
Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor is the site for this Big Ten battle, ESPN's telecast of the tilt starting at 7 PM (ET). SBR's NCAA basketball odds are currently listing the Badgers -10 and 120 for the scoreboard number.
It's the only meeting of the regular season between Wisconsin and Michigan, and Beilein's bunch is going to miss the offense that LeVert supplied in the two clashes a year ago. A foot injury has the Wolverine junior out for the season after he scored 20 and 25 points in the season split with the Badgers a year ago.
That split was earned by the two teams exchanging road upsets in 2014, Wisconsin posting a 75-62 victory in the second game at Ann Arbor as a 4 point underdog to take an 88-70 lead in the series. The last four meetings at Crisler Center were each winners for 'under' bettors.
Badgers Begin Road Swing Off Rout Of Iowa
Bo Ryan and Wisconsin (17-2 straight up, 11-7-1against the spread) are also dealing with a major injury as point guard Traevon Jackson remains out of action following foot surgery. The senior was directing one of the most efficient offenses in the country when he was injured two weeks ago at Rutgers, and is expected to miss at least 3-4 more weeks.
The good news is the Badgers have responded with two wins since their floor leader went out, and Jackson's replacement, sophomore Bronson Koenig, is averaging 12 PPG in 34 minutes of floor time. Both victories came at home, with Tuesday's triumph vs. Iowa a near-perfect team performance. The Badgers ran the Hawkeyes out of the building early in the 82-50 decision, turning the ball over just once and shooting nearly 50% from the field.
The lone giveaway should be no surprise to anyone that has been following Wisconsin basketball recently; the Badgers lead the nation averaging just 7.8 turnovers per game and are 14th in the country shooting almost 49% from the field. They now hit the road for back-to-back games, but will have a week off after this trip before engaging the Hawkeyes in a quick rematch down in Iowa City.
Beilein Turns To Bigger Lineup With LeVert Out
Only a game separates Michigan (12-7 SU, 6-10-1 ATS) and Wisconsin in the Big Ten race, but the two squads are far apart in the RPI with the Badgers checking in at No. 9 while the Wolverines are sitting a distant 68th. The schedule isn't going to let up on Michigan after this one with the next four games split two at home vs. Nebraska and Iowa plus two on the road at Michigan State and Indiana.
The Wolverines were at Rutgers on Tuesday and lined as 2½ point underdogs on the NCAA odds, so the 54-50 win was something of an upset. Still, it was a struggle against a much weaker Scarlet Knights team that was picked to finish last in the Big Ten, and it figures Beilein will continue to tinker with his lineup to find the right rotations minus LeVert who was averaging nearly 15 points per game before his injury.
Beilein sent a bigger starting lineup out vs. Rutgers, using three forwards and a pair of guards most of the game after playing with a guard-heavy group most of the season. He'll definitely need his big guys to step up with quality minutes in this one, which means leaning on freshmen Ricky Doyle and Mark Donnal along with junior Max Biefeldt.
No matter how bad they're beat up, it remains a very tempting number to take on the Wolverines at home. I'm going to bite on the series trend in this one, however, with my NCAA Basketball Pick on the low side of the total.
Free College Basketball Pick: Wisconsin-Michigan Under 120 at 5Dimes
Season: 26-30 (-7.0)