After a break of more than three weeks, No. 3 Michigan showed some rust in the first half at No. 21 Wisconsin on Sunday before coming through when it mattered most for a 67-59 victory that validated the Wolverines' standing as a projected No. 1 seed in the 2021 NCAA Tournament. Michigan (14-1, 9-1 Big Ten) doubled up Wisconsin (15-7, 9-6) on the scoreboard (40-20) in the second half while holding the Badgers to 1 of 12 shooting from 3-point range after halftime to come back from a 12-point deficit after the first 20 minutes.
Franz Wagner hit a layup with 59 seconds left to put Michigan ahead 63-59, giving the Wolverines their biggest lead of the game. That forced Wisconsin to call a timeout and all but sealed the outcome. Wagner scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half to spark a Michigan squad that went more than 6 minutes late in the first half without a field goal. Wisconsin took a 39-27 to the half behind a 53.8% shooting clip but went cold in the second half, missing its final seven shots from the field.
In addition to Wagner's solid game, Isaiah Livers led Michigan with 20 points while freshman center Hunter Dickinson contributed 11 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks. D'Mitrik Trice led Wisconsin with 16 points, while Aleem Ford contributed 15. Freshman guard Jonathan Davis was the lone bright spot for the Badgers in the second half, scored eight of his 11 points in the latter frame.
Still the favorites
The Wolverines would have remained atop the Big Ten standings even with a loss, but their margin for error would have been all but eliminated. However, at 9-1 in league play, Michigan will enter a new week of action retaining a two-game edge in the loss column on Illinois (10-3) and a three-game edge on Ohio State (11-4). Matters are complicated by the fact that Michigan had five games postponed and could be required to make at least some of those up over the coming weeks. But for now, the Wolverines have some space atop the nation's toughest league.
Likewise, CBS Sports bracketology expert Jerry Palm projected that a loss likely would not have knocked the Wolverines off the projected No. 1 seed line for the NCAA Tournament. But a win gives Michigan some breathing room as it looks to earn its first No. 1 seed since coach Juwan Howard's sophomore season in 1993.
Dickinson's intangible contributions
Dickinson seemed to be hitting the freshman wall before Michigan's layoff. The 7-1 newcomer had failed to reach double-digits in three consecutive games after scoring at least 11 points in 11 straight games during an incredible beginning to his college career. Dickinson only scored -- you guessed it -- 11 points on Sunday, but he impacted the game immeasurably down the stretch.
The leading candidate for Big Ten Freshman of the Year pulled down eight rebounds in the final seven minutes, including four offensive boards that fueled Michigan to a 15-9 edge in second-chance points. He also blocked a career-high five shots in the game while outplaying Wisconsin's veteran bigs Nate Reuvers and Micah Potter.
Wisconsin has now alternated between a win and a loss for eight straight games in what must be a frustrating cycle of inconsistency for fans hoping to see a veteran squad build off of last year's success. The Badgers shared the Big Ten title last season with a 14-6 league record and started out 6-2 in the league this year. But at 9-6 now in Big Ten play, this team has been all but eliminated from conference title contention, despite the fact that it returned nearly every key contributor from last year's squad.
The Badgers can beat anyone in the Big Ten when they are hitting shots from the outside. But when their shooting is off, their slow pace tends to exacerbate the offensive problems. Wisconsin was not credited with a single fast break point on Sunday, and the Badgers had no way of finding a spark when their half court offense began to languish.