Men's basketball: Tough road ahead

Badgers have not enjoyed trips to Crisler arena; Michigan's length presents challenge

No one ever said things would be easy away from home for the University of Wisconsin men's basketball team.

With all three of their losses to date coming on the road, the Badgers (12-3 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) have been inconsistent away from the Kohl Center. Their travels do not get any easier Saturday at Michigan.

The Badgers will have their hands full with a young and athletic Wolverines squad as they seek their first win at Crisler Arena under fourth-year head coach Bo Ryan.

This season Michigan players have missed a combined 65 games due to injuries, forcing head coach Tommy Amaker to use 10 different starting lineups in the team's first 18 games.

Despite the injury bug, Michigan has opened Big Ten play 3-1 and is 12-6 overall. The Wolverines' style of play — a constant throughout Amaker's four years in Ann Arbor — has remained consistent no matter who is in the lineup.

Michigan's active, athletic players are a challenge because they tend to play even bigger than they are. And the Wolverines have plenty of size. Guards sophomore Dion Harris and junior Daniel Horton are each 6-foot-3 and freshman wing Ron Coleman is 6-6. Starting forwards Graham Brown (6-9) and Courtney Sims (6-11) and top reserve Brent Petway (6-8), who recently returned from a shoulder injury, create a daunting inside presence.

"Across the board, they're long," UW senior guard Clayton Hanson said. "I don't know if we have faced a team this year from the ‘1' spot down has that length and athletic ability. No matter who is out there for them, they all play that same style and have that same ability."

"They really get out looking to extend [defensively] early in the game," Hanson said. "If they can get out and run, block shots and create turnovers, they're a tough team to match up with."

The Wolverines present a blend of length, strength and athleticism that is unique to the Big Ten. So different that in fact the Badgers have found it tough to prepare for Michigan in years past.

"In the past, it has been tough to simulate in practice," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "It's a little easier this year with [Greg Stiemsma], [Brian Butch] and [Andreas Helmigk] and having a really strong scout team. But still, it's hard to simulate guys as good as Sims and Brown."

Inside to outside, Michigan's long wing spans are a factor. That impact is most acutely felt in the paint with the play of Sims, Brown and Petway. Their presence defensively sets a tempo and can kick start the Wolverines.

Sims and Petway each have 29 blocked shots this season. Brown is averaging 8.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game in three games since returning to the lineup following surgery for a hernia. The front court would be even more imposing if reserve center Chris Hunter became available – the 6-foot-11 junior is questionable with a high ankle sprain.

"They've been really good inside this year," Wilkinson said. "On the defensive end, they really control the game by blocking shots and forcing teams to settle for jumpers from the outside."

Even with Michigan's strength down low, the Badgers will not shy away from what they do best: working the ball inside, at times to set up outside shooting.

"We need to get the ball inside early and get some fouls on their bigs," Hanson said. "Drawing fouls on them should help limit their aggressiveness and at the same time give us chances at the line."

Wisconsin did get to the free throw line last season at Crisler Arena, making 14 of 18 shots from the charity stripe. The Badger, though, shot just 38 percent from the floor and 15 percent from the 3-point arc (3 of 20), struggling with Michigan's size in a 71-59 loss.

"They have height, they got quickness, they got shooters, they got ball handlers," Ryan said. "They really don't have a weakness. They're pretty deep and pretty talented."

As fast and athletic as the Wolverines are, the Badgers will have to get out to a quick start and dictate the tempo right away—something they have not been able to do often on the road this season.

Who: Wisconsin (3-1 Big Ten, 12-3 Overall) at Michigan (3-1, 12-6)
When: Saturday, Jan. 21, 2005, 11:17 a.m. Central
Where: Crisler Arena (13,751), Ann Arbor, Mich.
Broadcast: The game will be televised live on ESPN Regional. The 46-city Wisconsin Radio Network will carry the game live (WIBA 1310 AM and 101.5 FM in Madison).
Series Notes: Michigan leads the series 85-55 and carries a 52-15 advantage in games played in Ann Arbor.

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