Big Ten Tournament

Red-hot Michigan Wolverines, potential team of destiny, await Wisconsin Badgers in Big Ten title game

Match-up between Derrick Walton Jr.'s offense and Zak Showalter's defense will be main event

Nigel Hayes and the Badgers drew a tough slate, as they'll likely play No. 1 overall-seed Villanova if they get to the Second Round.

Image By: Katie Scheidt

WASHINGTON — The Badgers ended the Big Ten regular season playing the hottest team in the conference. Sunday evening, they’ll have to do it again to close the Big Ten postseason.

After a convincing win over Minnesota, then on an eight-game winning streak, on Senior Night, No. 24 Wisconsin (12-6 Big Ten, 15-8 overall) will now have to face Michigan (10-8, 23-11) in the conference title game. The Wolverines have won four straight and 9-of-11 overall.

On the way to Washington, D.C., for the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway, stopping just short of a ravine, and had to be evacuated. The team’s trip was postponed until the next morning and they were forced to wear their practice jerseys in the first game.

They proceeded to decimate Illinois in that opening-round matchup and then overcame a late deficit to take out 1-seed Purdue in overtime. The next day, the Wolverines nearly ran away against the Golden Gophers but had to fend off a Minnesota run to advance to the championship.

Michigan features a plethora of adept scorers, ranging from point guard Derrick Walton Jr. to center Mo Wagner. The Wolverines rank No. 5 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency and have topped 90 points three times in conference play.

“D.J. Wilson has been playing unbelievable, Wagner also has been playing really good, and then obviously Walton, he's as solid a point guard as there is,” senior guard Vitto Brown said. “They have weapons one through five and there's not really anybody you can sleep on.”

Head coach Greg Gard added that with that depth across the board, help defense becomes increasingly critical.

“I never get too caught up in individual matchups because we are so help-oriented,” he said. “We have to have all five pieces working together, not disjointed in any way.”

One individual matchup that will matter more than the rest will be the play of redshirt senior guard Zak Showalter in defending Walton, one of the hottest players in the country. The senior guard has scored 17.7 points per game over the last 13 contests and has made at least three 3-pointers in six of the last 10.

“I'm going from [James] Blackmon to McIntosh to Walton,” Showalter said. “Like I've said before, this is what I've always wanted to do, watching Josh [Gasser] and guys like that just doing the little things to get your team a win. So these last two have gone according to plan and we've got one more in front of us.”

The Badgers are finally feeling good—having gotten back on track after dropping five-of-six games in February—but are hardly thinking about Saturday’s result beyond the fact that it earned them a chance to play Sunday.

“It's satisfying,” Showalter said. “But the only satisfaction I'm looking for is getting a ring tomorrow.”

Wisconsin tips off against Michigan at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Verizon Center.

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