Home-court advantage has remained a factor in the Big Ten this season despite the lack of fans.
That could give unbeaten and No. 7 Michigan an edge in its showdown Tuesday against No. 9 Wisconsin in Ann Arbor, Mich.
All 14 teams in the conference entered Sunday with at least a .500 record at home, and six are undefeated on their home floors. Eight of the wins this season for the Wolverines (10-0, 5-0) have come at the Crisler Center, while the Badgers (10-2, 4-1) are looking to improve their 1-1 road record.
“We’ve got a really big week coming up, two road games that are going to be really tough,” said D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin’s leading scorer at 14.8 points a game.
“We’re playing Michigan, who’s a really hot team, one of the hottest teams in the country, and then at Rutgers (on Friday), playing at the RAC arena, is always a struggle. We’re looking for our first win there.”
Trice wasn’t the least bit intimidated when Michigan’s stands were filled last season, scoring 28 points in an 81-74 Wisconsin victory on Feb. 27, 2020.
Trice also led the offense in the Badgers’ most recent game, scoring 21 points in an 80-73 double-overtime win at home against Indiana on Thursday.
“Just getting the win in double overtime is a big help, a big momentum booster, for us to get back to where we need to be,” Trice said. “Obviously, we’re the oldest team probably in the country, we’re definitely older than the (Chicago) Bulls, as the announcers keep saying. We just know we’re a hard-nosed, gritty team. We’ve got to continue playing Wisconsin defense. That’s what is going to get the job done.”
The Wolverines have been getting the job done with an experienced group as well, although their leading scorer, Hunter Dickinson, is a freshman. Dickinson (18.0 points per game) scored a career-high 28 points in Michigan’s last game, an 82-57 thumping of Minnesota on Wednesday.
“It’s good to have a team that is very mature, understands what they want and understands that it’s going to be hard getting it,” coach Juwan Howard said. “But they’ve got to get uncomfortable, because everything that they want, it’s hard.”
Howard’s team has gotten some extra time to prepare for the Badgers. Michigan’s scheduled game at Penn State on Saturday was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Nittany Lions’ program.
While his team is supremely confident, Howard doesn’t sense any cockiness from his players.
“Our team is humble,” he said. “They know that the season doesn’t end until April.”
The Wolverines have defeated their last four opponents by double digits through a combination of a suffocating defense and a very efficient offense. Michigan is shooting 52.5 percent from the field for the season and averaging 18 assists per game.
The Wolverines will test that offensive prowess against a Badgers defense that has held opponents to an average of 61.5 points on 38.9 percent shooting.
“The grit of this group, the versatility of this group,” Wisconsin coach Greg Gard said of his team’s identity. “Every night’s going to be a battle. This league is hard. You’re going to get (every) team’s best shot.”
–Field Level Media