(12) Wisconsin (9-3) at (7) Michigan (10-2)

Fog Currently: Ann Arbor, MI
Temp: 59° F
  • Game info: 2:00 pm EST Wed Dec 31, 2008
  • *Wisconsin
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Either Wisconsin or Michigan has been ranked in the Top 25 the last nine times they’ve matched up, a trend that will continue when they open Big Ten play on Wednesday night at Crisler Arena.

This time, however, there will be one major difference.

Instead of the Badgers, who have gone 7-2 when in the poll, the resurgent Wolverines are ranked 23rd heading into this contest.

While Michigan’s program is still looking for its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994, Wisconsin has become a fixture near the top of the Big Ten under coach Bo Ryan, winning the league’s regular-season and tournament titles in 2007-08.

But the Badgers (9-3) didn’t turn many heads in non-conference play this season, while Michigan (10-2) has already beaten a pair of upper-echelon teams en route to matching last season’s win total.

The Wolverines finished 10-22, including a 5-13 mark in Big Ten play in their first season under coach John Beilein. But they’re optimistic about a return to relevance thanks to an impressive start. In addition to a current five-game winning streak and 8-0 record at home, they’ve already beaten both UCLA and Duke when each team was ranked No. 4.

“It’s 10-2 and I’m appreciative of that,” Beilein said. “We’ve played a lot of home games. Now we’re going to find out how good this team is and where we’ve got to go with the direction once we get into the meat of the Big Ten schedule.”

They’ll do that behind an emerging duo of Detroit natives. After junior forward DeShawn Sims scored 20 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in an easy win over Florida Gulf Coast on Dec. 22, sophomore guard Manny Harris was the star on Monday, when the Wolverines beat North Carolina Central 77-57.

Harris, the Big Ten leader with 19.8 points per game, scored 29 while adding a career-high 16 rebounds and seven assists, but Michigan struggled at times against the winless Eagles and led by just seven at the half.

“We just need to be consistent against whoever we play,” Harris said. “We’re going into the toughest part of the schedule and we can’t afford to play up and down like we did (Monday).”

The defending league champions should already have Michigan’s attention. But the defensive-minded Badgers are still looking for their first win over a ranked team this season, already having lost to Connecticut and Marquette - and fallen out of the Top 25 themselves.

Wisconsin also lost 74-69 to then-No. 9 Texas on Dec. 23, hanging with the Longhorns despite struggling physically and getting outrebounded 40-25 at home.

“You see the bodies. You see the players,” said Ryan, referring to his team’s slight starting lineup without a player taller than 6-foot-8. “What do you want me to talk about?”

While Trevon Hughes and Marcus Landry have shouldered the bulk of the scoring, each averaging more than 12 points per game, Joe Krabbenhoft (6.0) is the team’s only player averaging more than five rebounds.

Wisconsin, which has won four straight against the Wolverines, also opened its Big Ten schedule at Michigan last season, winning 70-54.

The Badgers won both regular-season meetings, then held Beilein’s club to 20.0 percent shooting in a 51-34 win in the conference tournament on March 14, ending Michigan’s season. Harris and Sims shot a combined 3-of-22 from the field to finish with 10 points.

Under Ryan, Wisconsin is 42-39 on the road, but 2-4 in Ann Arbor.

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