What I Learned From Milwaukee: Michigan Wolverines and Wisconsin Badgers
The SI.com writers who covered the first weekend of the NCAA tournament offer their takeaways on each of the teams from their sites that advanced to the Sweet 16:
Other sites: Buffalo (UConn and Dayton) | Raleigh (Virginia and Tennessee) | Orlando (Florida and Louisville | San Antonio (Iowa State and Baylor) | San Diego (Arizona and UCLA) | St. Louis (Kentucky and Stanford) | Spokane (Michigan State and San Diego State)
Seed: No. 2 in Midwest
It seems entirely counterintuitive to play zone against a team featuring Nik Stauskas (45.8 percent shooting from long range) and three other players with 40 percent or better efficiency from behind the arc. But twice now recently – against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament and against Texas in a round of 32 game – a zone defense gummed up the Wolverines' rhythm just enough to stir a comeback. The defense must be active and extend to shooters, of course, or else it turns into target practice for Michigan. But it can be a legitimate option.
Michigan's own defense, meanwhile, doesn't need to asphyxiate teams; it just needs to make things difficult until its potent offense can take over. In Milwaukee the Wolverines held the Terriers and Longhorns to 34 and 37 percent shooting, respectively. The rebounding was a problem against Texas, which won the battle on the glass 38-25, but Michigan's Jordan Morgan is holding his own despite being undersized at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds. Morgan had three double-digit rebounding games during the regular season and Big Ten tournament. He has two in two NCAA tournament games, posting double-doubles in both. He pulled down more defensive rebounds (eight) than any Wofford player had total rebounds in the second round, and his 10 rebounds against the Longhorns were also a game-high. If he can produce that consistently on the glass, a potential weak spot for the Wolverines becomes less of a worry.
Seed: No. 2 in West
Results: Beat No. 15 American 75-35; beat No. 7 Oregon 85-77
Wisconsin has a nearly indefensible offense that might just now be hitting its stride. The Badgers shot 49.1 percent and hit 21 three-pointers across the two games at the Bradley Center while scoring 1.29 points per possession against American and then 1.31 PPP against Oregon – their most efficient offensive showings since early January. They weren't bad in the Big Ten tournament, either, with 1.28 PPP against Minnesota and 1.21 against Michigan State. The season average: 1.16. With six players capable of consistently scoring in double-figures, they'll have options against a befuddling Baylor zone and then the two top 10 defenses on the other side of the regional in Arizona and San Diego State.
Wisconsin's defense, meanwhile, is now 56th nationally in adjusted efficiency, and the 77 points Oregon scored on Saturday were the most allowed by a Bo Ryan-coached Badgers team in an NCAA tournament game that Wisconsin still won. It's a bit risky at this stage to be satisfied with “good enough” defensively and expect the offense to provide a bailout, but that just may be who these Badgers are.
They are also a team with multiple offensive weapons in close games. Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker get must of the attention from opposing defenses, but Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson are two more solid options in the clutch. On Brust's go-ahead three-pointer against the Ducks, Dekker didn't even bother to head to the rim for a possible offensive rebound. “Because he's going to hit that,” Dekker said. As for Jackson, he made three game-winning or game-tying shots as a sophomore and added another in February against Michigan State. Jackson then hit all six of his free throws in the final 32 seconds against Oregon to seal the Sweet 16 bid.
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