Amping Up the Fun

After two mid-major home victories, Wisconsin basketball has boarded a jet plane in search of respect. With three games against top-league competition in Maui, the Badgers will have a chance to show that they belong.

LAHAINA, Hawaii - From the Summit League to the summit of preseason college basketball tournament, it's an obvious assessment that Wisconsin is going from the little league to the big league.

And for a team that most pundits picked to finish between seventh and eighth in the Big Ten Conference, it's the first chance to prove that preseason projections carry little meaning, like a paper umbrella in a pina colada.

"We're going there with something to prove and take advantage of the whole situation," said UW junior Jon Leuer, who leads UW with a 15.5 scoring average. "We're going there looking to be competitive."

As far as an early season tournament goes, there isn't a biggest test, or a traditionally more competitive field, than the Maui Invitational. Those who have participated in the 26-year-old tournament have won 55 of 71 NCAA championships, 55 of 71 national runner-up spots and 214 of 284 Final Four teams.

The champion in Maui has advanced to at least the Elite Eight in four of the last five years. The most recent – last year's national champion North Carolina.

The reasoning is simple. With three games in three days against elite competition, the team with the most solid depth and unified chemistry usually fly home with three wins added to their resume.

"All the coaches I've talked to say the most talented teams tend to win," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "You can have the best talent and not win, but out there with the lack of preparation and not doing your normal routine, the better athletes take over."

In terms of talent, there is arguably nobody better on Wisconsin's roster than senior guard Trevon Hughes. The consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2008 and 09, Hughes is the Badgers' leading scorer returning from last season and has taken the leadership role to a new level.

After narrowly missing a triple-double in exhibition play, Hughes registered his 41st double-digit scoring game with a team-high 15 points against Oakland, registering 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists to lead Wisconsin to a 34-23 halftime lead.

"He's really stepped up as a senior," said Leuer. "It's his time. It's his last go around. He makes us go and when he's driving and creating, it frees us up for shots."

With a tournament full of experienced guards, Hughes will get a chance from the opening game to show he belongs among the elite backcourt players in the country. Opening the invitational against Arizona (2-0) on Monday night, Hughes will be matched up against Wildcats senior guard Nic Wise, who was named to the Naismith Trophy watch list after scoring 15.7 points per game and leading the team in assists and steals.

"We know what we are up against wish the first game in Arizona," said Leuer of Arizona, who knocked the Badgers our in the first round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament. "We're not looking past them. We know there track record and what they've done in the past."

But just like most other teams in the country, Arizona is trying to find its niche, as the Wildcats have a roster filled with 13 freshmen and sophomores. Consider it an advantage for Wisconsin, a team with a starting lineup filled with three juniors and two seniors and an offense that is predicated on defense and taking the smart shot.

In the first two games, UW's opponents are shooting just 30 percent from the field and been limited to an average of 44 points per game, a number that ranks UW fourth in the nation.

Even with two games completed on the schedule, the Badgers feel as though the chemistry of returning seven players that have played in 30 or more games has already yielded them dividends.

"Everything in practice we treat like a game," Hughes said. "You can get game experience by going to practice and we have a talented group this year one through 15. They are pushing us on the scout team and we had two good opponents show us different things … that are going to get us ready for Maui."


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