Chalk It Up with Michigan on Road in Big 10 Clash vs. Wisconsin

Rainman M.

Sunday, February 11, 2018 1:53 PM UTC

Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 1:53 PM UTC

Wisconsin (11-15) hosts No. 20 Michigan (19-7) today at 1 p.m. ET.  Michigan opened as 2 point favorites on our NCAAB odds board, but were immediately bet up to 4-point favorites.

Sunday College Basketball: Michigan vs. WisconsinFree NCAAB Pick: Michigan -4Best Line Offered: Heritage

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The key trend on our NCAAB picks is that Wisconsin is 3-9 ATS against teams ranked in KenPom’s top 50. The Badgers love to bully softer teams like Illinois, but they are just 3-6 ATS and 1-5 SU against the rest of the Big 10.

In Wisconsin’s three covers and SU wins -- against Indiana and twice against Illinois -- it produced 70+ points. In its ATS and SU losses, it produced fewer than 70 points. The Badgers had an atypically strong performance from three against Indiana and shredded Illinois inside, which ranks outside the top 100 in half-court defense and outside the top-200 in opposing two-point shooting percentage. The biggest advantage for Wisconsin’s offense would be to face a weak inside defense. The Badgers have the 97th-highest point distribution from two. A major reason for their struggles in conference play has been the quality they have faced. On the season, they rank 110th in two-point shooting percentage but ninth in the category in conference play.

Michigan’s interior defense is vulnerable against the kind of physical, rebounding big men who are strong around the rim. Two such examples are Purdue center Isaac Haas and UNC center Luke Maye. Center Ethan Happ leads Wisconsin with 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. He matches up well against Michigan individually in the same way Haas and Maye did. But Wisconsin, which ranks 12th in the Big 10 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency, struggles to create plays like Purdue and UNC. Wisconsin’s half-court offense ranks fifth in terms of assists per field goals made after owning Illinois. Michigan’s half-court defense, though, is tops in the conference. If it were as simple as throwing the ball to Happ, Michigan would be in trouble. But for one, the Wolverines boast a well-organized defense that will prevent Wisconsin from exploiting its advantage with Happ too significantly. Secondly, Wisconsin lacks the playmakers who can create more chances for Happ and support Happ scoring-wise. For instance, going back to last year’s game at Michigan, Happ scored 22 points off 13 field-goal attempts while Wisconsin still didn’t eclipse 60 points.

Trying to replace the graduated ball-secure point guard Bronson Koenig with freshman Brad Davison is part of the growing pains for this year’s Wisconsin team. Davison is averaging .6 turnovers more per game than Koenig did despite playing fewer minutes. Before playing Illinois, in Wisconsin’s previous five games Davison had produced only 12 assists to nine turnovers. Even Davison notwithstanding, this year’s Wisconsin club is much less ball-secure. Wisconsin definitely won’t be able to get Happ the ball if it can’t keep possession of the ball. Wisconsin ranks 13th in the Big 10 in turnover percentage allowed. Michigan excels at forcing turnovers, ranking fourth in the category in Big 10 play. Michigan is licking its chops to face Wisconsin’s half-court offense and Michigan will see a lot of Wisconsin’s half-court offense because Wisconsin will struggle to get into transition against the most ball-secure team in the Big 10. UM's defense has thrived against offenses that struggle with turnovers. Michigan’s last three double-digit wins in conference play involved them achieving a decisive turnover differential.

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While Michigan’s defense forces Wisconsin’s guards to win the game, Michigan will take advantage of Wisconsin’s struggle against athleticism around the rim and eventually cover the number on the college basketball odds board. Guys who don’t rely on strength alone inside, like center Moritz Wagner, who completes more than 60 percent inside the arc, and small forward Charles Matthews, who ranks 434th in two-point shooting percentage, tend to perform well against Wisconsin.

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