December 31, 2008

Five things to watch: Michigan

MADISON, Wis. - Without a bowl game to prepare for, Michigan fans are focused on its basketball team. So far this season, the Wolverine hoopsters have jumped all over its non-conference opponents by posting a 10-2 mark before conference play. Knowing that UM has already matched its win total from a season ago, excitement is high.

However, the Wisconsin men's basketball team, the Big Ten's reigning champions, will also look to get off on the right foot with a win to start conference play. Before today's match-up between the two programs, gives viewers five things to watch during the New Year's Eve tilt.

1.) Twice is nice:

Today's game marks the second consecutive season the Badgers will start conference play on the road at Michigan. Last season UW rode Jon Leuer's explosive 25-point outburst to a 70-54 win. At the time, the Badgers had just completed a thrilling win at No. 7 Texas and entered the conference slate with plenty of confidence. So far this season, Wisconsin has lost three games to No. 2 UCONN, at Marquette and No. 8 Texas. It will be interesting to see if the loss to the Longhorns has a lasting effect on the Badgers as it begins the conference portion of the schedule.

2.) Michigan's big two:

UW head coach Bo Ryan drew parallels between former Badger standout Devin Harris and current Wolverine sophomore Manny Harris during his weekly press conference earlier this week. He noted that major growth was seen from year one on campus to year two, and that is exactly what Michigan's Harris has shown. As a sophomore he leads both the Big Ten and Michigan in scoring and is joined by DeShawn Sims as the Wolverine's top scoring threats. Look for the Wolverines to get both these dynamic players going early on in the contest.

3.) Freshman break-out?

Last season it was Jon Leuer making his name known among Badger fans. Following his 5-for-5 shooting from beyond the arc that helped him to score a career high 25 points, he continued to develop and has become one of UW's most dynamic scorers this season. Whose turn will it be this year? Well, both Jordan Taylor and Robert Wilson log influential minutes so maybe the Big Ten opener will be as good to them as it was for Leuer a season ago.

4.) Title defense begins:

So far during the non-conference slate, the Big Ten has been very impressive. Combining Michigan's wins over Duke and UCLA with Minnesota's win against Louisville, Purdue's win over Davidson and Michigan State's win over Texas and the conference seems to be stronger than it has been in recent years. Knowing this, the Badgers will have its work cut out for it if it wants to repeat, starting with the Wolverines.

5.) Improved guard play:

Junior's Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes, both double-digit scorers, seem to be finding their shooting stroke so far this season. In UW's last game against Texas, Bohannon hit multiple three-point attempts that kept the Badgers in the game up until the very end. Meanwhile, Hughes is shooting an impressive 47.8 percent from distance. If the Badgers hope to beat the Wolverines, these two shooters will need to hit from the perimeter as well as protect the ball.

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