MADISON - The Wisconsin Badgers are going to have to do some heavy lifting if they want to help the Big Ten win the Big Ten/ACC Challenge for the fifth time in six seasons. They'll travel to Charlottesville, Va., on Wednesday for a rematch against former Wisconsin assistant Tony Bennett and his Virginia Cavaliers, who are off to a 7-1 start in his fifth season at the helm.
The Badgers will be out for revenge after the Cavaliers beat them in the Kohl Center 60-54 last season, handing them a rare home non-conference loss behind a 22-point night from forward Joe Harris. And with almost all of Virginia's roster returning for another season under Bennett, Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said Virginia's improvement from last year to this year is obvious.
"Looking at these players, looking at these games that I've seen, he's got to be very pleased with the progress and where these guys are," Ryan said of Bennett Monday at his weekly press conference. "I think he knows he's in a pretty good position right now. You've got to stay healthy. You've got to catch a break now or then. So many things factor in. But I know they're definitely better than last year."
So far this season the Cavaliers are scoring 69.6 points per game and are shooting 48.9 percent from the floor. They lost a home game to then-No. 14 Virginia Commonwealth, and are still looking for their first signature win of the season. A win over No. 8 Wisconsin would certainly count as a signature win, and Ryan said that Bennett has done a good job of establishing his own identity as a head coach after Bennett worked at Wisconsin for both his father Dick Bennett and Ryan before coaching at Washington State and Virginia.
"[Bennett] is his own basketball guy," Ryan said of any similarities between himself and his former assistant. "Tony knows how the game is played before he was an assistant with me, and he's even smarter now that he's had a chance to [coach] -- that's where you really get to be better as a coach. You get to do things on your own because the buck stops here. And Tony's welcomed that challenge and done it pretty well."
In the Rankings
-- The Badgers moved up to No. 8 in the AP Men's Basketball poll, up two spots from No. 10 last week. Michigan State retained the top spot at No. 1 in the poll, and Ohio State moved up two spots from No. 7 to No. 5. Michigan stayed steady at No. 22, and Iowa stayed static at No. 23.
-- The Badgers also moved up in the USA Today Coaches Poll, jumping up to No. 9 from No. 11 last week. Michigan State and Ohio State are Nos. 1 and 3 in the Coaches Poll, with Michigan checking in at No. 21 and Iowa dropping one spot to No. 24. Indiana also moved up two spots to No. 23 in the Coaches Poll.
The week ahead
-- The Badgers have two games scheduled for this week: first up is a road trip to Charlottesville, Va. for their Big Ten/ACC Challenge matchup with the Virginia Cavaliers. Virginia handed the Badgers a 60-54 loss in Madison last year, and the Badgers are 6-8 all time in the Challenge. That game is scheduled for a 6 p.m. CST kick off on Wednesday, with the game set to air on ESPN2.
The Badgers will then return home to the Kohl Center for their annual rivalry game against the Marquette Golden Eagles. The Badgers are 6-6 against Marquette under Ryan, with the Golden Eagles taking last year's game in Milwaukee 60-50. That game is scheduled to tip off at 1:15 p.m. CST, and will air on the Big Ten Network.
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