Different Michigan Men

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has always talked about when they play opponents is more important than where they play opponents. When No.12 Wisconsin faces Michigan in Ann Arbor tonight, the Badgers are facing one of the hottest teams in the conference.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Admit all the anarchy in the world of college basketball last week, seeing seven of the top 10 teams in the Associate Press poll lose on the road, there was a void in who was the hottest team in the country.

UW coach Bo Ryan, whose team was one of last week's causalities, answered that unsolicited question with a team that is getting no votes in this week's top 25 poll.

"Every team that we play next is the best team in America, and I never change that," Ryan said. "When we're doing the scouting report, Michigan will be the best team in the country at practice."

Michigan was not expected to compete this season in a loaded Big Ten conference, especially with the Wolverines rated as the 325th youngest team in American. The Wolverines (17-11, 7-8 Big Ten) – who are tied for sixth in the conference - have taken their bumps in the Big Ten, including a 66-50 loss in Madison Jan.5 that started a six game losing streak.

But when Michigan hosts No.12 Wisconsin (20-6, 10-4 Big Ten) Wednesday night at Crisler Arena, the Wolverines will be looking for their seventh win in the last nine games.

"I am really pleased the way we played in all our games (of late) and did what we had to win," said Michigan coach John Beilein, who has no seniors and its 11 underclassmen is the most in the conference. "We've been encouraged all year long. My concern was how they handle all the bumps along the way in one of the better years of the Big Ten."

Michigan's name hasn't been mentioned when it comes to the tournament bubble, but the Wolverines are a win over Wisconsin away from having their names back in the conversation.

Five of Michigan's 11 losses this season have come against teams ranked in the top 15 – by three to then-No. 9 Syracuse (53-50); seven in overtime to then-No. 3 Kansas (67-60); four to then-No. 2 Ohio State (68-64); five to then-No. 15 Minnesota (69-64) and nine at No. 1 Ohio State (62-53).

Michigan – who has already surpassed last year's win total of 15 - has six wins over the top 70 in the RPI and only one loss against a team outside the top 80 RPI, not bad for a team picked to finish 10th or last in the conference.

Part of that turnaround has been because of sophomore point guard Darius Morris. Averaging 15.4 points per game, Morris has the highest average points increase from last year in the conference (11.0), 3.2 points more than UW's Jordan Taylor, and leads the Big Ten in assists per game (6.89/g).

Since their loss to the Badgers, Morris has reached double digits in each of the Wolverines' 13 games.

"They're playing better together, and (Darius) Morris, who started to have some good games, and then maybe some rough spots, and it just seems like he's been a little more consistent," UW coach Bo Ryan. "That's pretty important when you've got the ball in your hand as much as he does. And they're knocking down shots."

With less than three weeks until Selection Sunday, Wisconsin is a virtual lock for the national tournament, but is a different animal away from the Kohl Center with a 3-5 road record, including 2-4 in conference play. For Michigan, it seems the Badgers are coming in at the right time for the Wolverines to register a signature win.

"Their eyes are on the prize and the prize is really be the best we can be," Beilein said. "Just work hard every day in practice, every scouting report, every training table … all the things you need to do to be in position to win some of these remaining games."


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