March 15, 2013

Pre-Wisconsin notes and thoughts

Day two at the Big Ten Tournament is always one of the liveliest, with the top four seeds (and their fans) on hand. Here are a few notes and observations on the Wisconsin-Michigan match-up.

• Michigan and Wisconsin have met one time in the Big Ten Tournament, in the 2008 quarterfinals. John Beilein took his first group of Wolverines - this one of the 10-win variety - into the game and promptly got crushed, 51-34.

The offensively challenged team endured an excruciating outing against the defensive-minded Badgers, and the lasting memory from that one involves Beilein sitting in the locker room, calmly explaining the way forward. He clearly wasn't happy with what had happened, but seemed absolutely convinced about what was to come.

He talked about pruning fruit trees back in his home state of New York, and how they need extensive care in the shaping of their growth. Six years later, he's back against Wisconsin featuring a 26-win squad, the Big Ten Player of the Year in Trey Burke, two first-team All-Big Ten performers in Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., and an excellent shot at a top-three seed in the NCAA Tournament.

In other words, he's got a few more weapons to fire. It says here Beilein comes away from the rematch with Wisconsin 1-1, and with far less to explain away.

• Wisconsin is 15-13 in Big Ten Tournament play, having made it through as tournament champions in 2004 and 2008. Michigan is now 9-13, with a victory only in the inaugural tournament title game in 1998.

That one, of course, carries an asterisk, given the NCAA sanctions to come involving a couple of players off that crew. Our call: Michigan gets another BTT title sometime in the next three seasons, including this one.

• The Badgers feature the fresher legs, getting the first-round bye between the two 12-6 squads by virtue of its win over Michigan in Madison. The Wolverines, on the other hand, have enjoyed the opportunity to get a game in at the United Center, which sometimes can make a difference on day two.

The biggest concern for Michigan involves staying fresh through a hoped-for long haul during the tournament. Redshirt junior center Jordan Morgan noted after the Penn State win that staying as fresh as possible had to be job one for the Wolverines.

Doing so means time in the ice tub, extra stretching, and Michigan players getting off their feet following the first-round win.

"It's tough," Morgan said. "All the games are very physical. They're hard games. You're moving a lot, running a lot. It takes its toll on your body. We do a lot to manage that stress on our bodies."

The biggest stress of all is coming up - 40 minutes of a Wisconsin team that loves to bang under the boards, control the ball for 34 seconds of the 35-second clock, clang a shot, grab the rebound and make an opponent defend for another 34. Look for a game in the 50s or low 60s … but no 34 on the board.

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