Wisconsin has risen to the top of the highly competitive Big Ten. If the Badgers want to stay there, they’ll have to start winning on the road.
The No. 23 Badgers (15-4, 5-1) look to maintain their slim lead for sole possession of first place in the conference when they travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan.
Wisconsin avoided a third straight loss Wednesday by routing Penn State 72-43 at home. The win kept the Badgers alone in first by one game over five teams, but it’s unlikely they’ll still be there at the end of Saturday’s play if they struggle away from the Kohl Center again.
Extremely tough at its home arena, where it’s 15-1 this season, Wisconsin has been unable to carry that level of play over to the road, losing all three games away from Madison. The home-heavy schedule so far could be a factor in the Badgers’ poor play on the road, but whatever the case, four of the teams that trail the Badgers by a game in the Big Ten also play Saturday.
Wisconsin’s road losses, though, have come against tough competition in then-No. 22 Wake Forest (91-88), then-unbeaten Pittsburgh (73-64) and then-No. 19 Ohio State (77-67).
The Badgers’ home dominance ended in stunning fashion last Saturday with a stunning 62-55 home loss to North Dakota State, but they bounced back with a 72-43 rout of Penn State on Wednesday night.
“Once the week started, we were past (the defeat),” said forward Alando Tucker, who led the Badgers with 17 points Wednesday. “That’s what we had to prepare ourselves mentally for.”
Wisconsin made 13 3-pointers and took a 40-18 lead at the break. The big win was one of the easier times in a trying week, during which the Badgers also lost reserve forwards Greg Stiemsma and Marcus Landry to academic problems for the rest of the season.
“Adversity can reveal character, and I’ve certainly seen an awful lot,” Badgers coach Bo Ryan said.
That character will be tested in yet another tough road game. Michigan (14-3, 4-2) will be looking to knock off a second straight ranked opponent, and pull into a first-place tie with Wisconsin, after upsetting No. 11 Michigan State 72-67 on Wednesday night.
Michigan used pressure defense, balanced scoring and a raucous crowd at Crisler Arena to break an eight-game losing streak against ranked schools. The Wolverines had been 0-3 against Top 25 opponents this season.
“It’s a big win for our Big Ten championship hopes,” said Daniel Horton, who scored a game-high 23 points to help pull Michigan into the five-way tie for second in the conference.
The Wolverines played without Lester Abram, who’s second on the team behind Horton with 12.1 points per game, because of a sprained ankle. Abram said he would play against the Badgers.
Ron Coleman, Abram’s replacement, scored nine points—one off his season high.
Like Wisconsin, Michigan has been very good at home. The victory over the Spartans was the Wolverines’ seventh straight at Crisler and 10th in 11 games, with the only loss coming against then-No. 14 UCLA on Dec. 17.
Wisconsin has dominated the series with Michigan of late, taking seven of the last 10 meetings, including two in a row. The Wolverines’ last victory in the series came on Feb. 22, 2004, a 71-59 win at Ann Arbor.