Defense Carrying the Burden

After surviving its opening stretch of road games and with home games against Michigan and Penn State on tap for this week, Wisconsin sits in third place in the Big Ten based on its defense, which has helped the Badgers survive without junior Jon Leuer.

Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan -

MADISON – Losing its second-leading scorer and dominant post presence for an indefinite period of time, many college basketball teams would have slipped off the cliff.

In two games without junior Jon Leuer, Wisconsin is still holding on, a big part of that is due to the defense.

Wisconsin (14-4, 4-2 Big Ten) is allowing just 56.7 points per game, good enough for eighth in the nation. Through six conference games, the Badgers are allowing only 56.7 points (four points better than second-place Michigan State) and have allowed only two opponents to score over 55 points, proving that life goes on after Leuer.

"Players want to play, and (they) understand that if it happens to them, it's the same thing," Ryan said Monday. "It's just ‘compete as usual.' I don't call it business as usual."

The Badgers also rank second in the nation with 9.9 turnovers per game, a number that ranks where it is because of sophomore Jordan Taylor. Taylor tops the Big Ten and ranked fourth in the nation with a 3.4 assist-to-turnover ratio.

In the Badgers nine-point loss to Ohio State on Saturday, Taylor had three assists to one turnover, but Wisconsin finished 7-of-14 in the turnover ratio.

"You get two teams in a contest, you are going to have things that happen that you would like to have back, but you aren't going to get them back," Ryan said. "If you are trying to make a play, if you are in position and somebody makes a great defensive stop, that's one thing. But, it's probably a combination (of the two)."

After playing four of six on the road to start the Big Ten, going 2-2 in that stretch, Wisconsin – ranked No.18 in the AP Poll and No.19 in the coaches poll - will have a chance to regroup with two home games, hosting Michigan on Wednesday and Penn State on Sunday.

The Badgers have won six in a row against Michigan, including a 60-55 victory in Madison last March, but the Wolverines are coming off their biggest win of the season. After tumbling from its national ranking of 15 to begin the season, Michigan (10-7, 3-2) got 18 points from preseason first-team member Manny Harris for a 68-63 upset over No.15 Connecticut Sunday.

Forward DeShawn Sims grabbed 11 rebounds in the victory, marking the ninth game where the senior has grabbed at least seven rebounds in a game.

"They have players that have been through the league enough (that they are) seasoned," Ryan said. "People used to talk about a young Manny Harris. It seems like he's been there a long time, and Sims been there a long time. They have veterans who know what it's like to be on the road now. That's the area where they have probably gained a lot from last year."

The bench production will be key for Wisconsin, which has dipped the last two game without Leuer's 28 minutes in the lineup. In the two games without the junior, Wisconsin has used only four players – Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz, Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson – and the group has combined for only six points and 13 rebounds.

"Every one of these guys scored in high school, so I don't think you forget that," Ryan said. "We do enough shooting drills and enough individual work so players know their strengths shooting wise. They aren't going to force shots or shoot shots in areas that isn't their range."

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