December 30, 2008

UW prepares for upstart Michigan in opener

MADISON, Wis. - Entering league play a season ago, the Wisconsin men's basketball team was fresh off a major win on the road against Texas before it traveled to Michigan to play a struggling Wolverine squad in the conference opener. This season, the only similarities are with the scheduling.

After losing a tough game at home to Texas, the Badgers head to Crisler arena, this time to face a much tougher Wolverine squad that has already beaten two elite teams in Duke and UCLA during its non-conference portion of the schedule.

"With Michigan, you see they're a little stronger, a little more depth, a little more better understanding of reads, so they're a better team," UW head coach Bo Ryan said in reference to the Wolverines. "They've proven that."

Much of Michigan's early success can be attributed to the play of sophomore and Big Ten leading scorer Manny Harris and junior DeShawn Sims. Those two players alone combine for nearly half of Michigan's scoring this season and have led the Wolverines to 10 wins in non-conference play, matching its win total from a season ago.

"All I remember is last year I think we played Michigan three times," UW senior and second leading scorer Marcus Landry said. "They're familiar with us, we're familiar with them. They have some new players and they're very good. It's going to be a dogfight."

At this point, Michigan may be playing as good, if not better, than everyone else within the conference. With its only losses to Duke, a team they would later beat, and Maryland, it seems Wolverine head coach John Beilein's players have bought into his system, particularly his defensive zone that has historically given UW some trouble.

"It's a 1-3-1 and it's hard to play against," UW senior Joe Krabbenhoft said. "They do it well, but you just got to be patient. It's tough, I don't really know it that well. They (Michigan players) got a year under their belt and they're more experienced and more confident in themselves and they're playing well."

Landry added: "Play hard, take what they give you. Take what they give you, make reads. A lot of teams play zone, you take what they give you, find the open guy and move the ball."

On the season, Michigan has limited opponents to only 61.4 points per game and have held one-third of its opponents in the 50's. The Badgers average just less than 67 points per game, so playing on the road against Michigan's defense will be a major early conference test for UW.

"Basically it is a fresh start when you get into conference play," Landry said. "You play some team's that you're used to and things like that, you see some familiar faces. For me, it's a fresh start. I mean, you can't forget about the games that you play in the past, but it's a fresh start as far as starting conference."

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