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November 28, 2012

Previewing UVa at Wisconsin

When UVa plays at Wisconsin tonight in the 14th Annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge, it will be a game featuring two very similar styles. Virginia's Tony Bennett is hoping to continue building a program in Charlottesville like Bo Ryan has built in Madison. Without question, the cornerstone of both is defense.

The Cavaliers and Badgers will also bring their 4-2 records in 2012-2013 into tonight's matchup (7 p.m., ESPN2).

This will be the first-ever meeting between these two teams in the Challenge. Overall they have met twice before, having split those game. UVa and Wisconsin come into this year's edition with 7-5 and 6-7 records in the Challenge, respectively.

Bennett and Ryan, of course, are no strangers. The former was an assistant at Wisconsin for four years, starting with his time on the staff when his father, Dick, took the Badgers to the Final Four. Bennett was also an assistant under Ryan. This is the first time Bennett's UVa squad will play against Wisconsin and specifically inside the Kohl Center.

Last season, the Badgers led the nation in points allowed (53.2 points per game). The team just behind them? Bennett's Cavaliers, who allowed 54.2 points.

"A lot of people call it 'help,' a lot of people call it 'squeeze.' The terms never matter; it's about help and recovery," Ryan said Monday during his weekly press conference. "They're all trying to do the same thing- don't give up easy shots, don't give up wide-open shots, don't put people at the foul line a lot.

"He's a guy that knows basketball," Ryan said of Bennett. "Gym rat, watched him play when he was in high school and college. Loves the game. He was great to have on the staff. He did a great job."

"I have great memories of my time at Wisconsin and tremendous respect for their program and Coach Ryan," Bennett said recently. "I figured it was just a matter of time before Virginia and Wisconsin would be paired in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge."

The schools last met in 1999 in the Top of the World Classic in Alaska, with the Badgers beating the Wahoos 66-56. The only other meeting? The matchup in the Milwaukee Classic in Milwaukee that Virginia won 86-78.

The Cavaliers have won their last three straight. But those wins agains Seattle, Lamar, and North Texas are a far cry in terms of competition from playing Wisconsin, which received votes in both the Associated Press Top 25 and the USA Today Coaches Poll.

The Badgers beat Arkansas 77-70 in their last contest, the third-place game at the Continental Tire/Las Vegas Invitational.

When Bennett does lead his team on the floor at the Kohl Center, he will coach a Cavalier group that appears to be coming together thanks to quality play at the point guard position.

In what has become a staple of the program since Bennett took over four years ago, the Cavaliers are 3-0 when holding opponents under 50 points and 20-1 when holding opponents under 50 points. Bennett is 57-43 overall at UVa, including a 36-16 record in non-conference games.

Junior guard Joe Harris leads UVa in scoring at 15 points per game while junior forward Akil Mitchell averages nearly a double-double (11.7 points and 9.3 rebounds).

Though Virginia is expected to get senior captain Jontel Evans back into the lineup tonight for really the first time all season following surgery last month for a stress fracture in his right leg, in his place redshirt freshman guard Teven Jones has done an excellent job of late. The North Carolina native started the last two games and is the leading scorer among Bennett's five freshmen (7.7 points per game).

As for the Badgers, they've struggled against the better competition on their schedule so far this year. Their two losses came at Florida 74-56 and at Creighton 84-74.

Wisconsin is led in scoring by 6-foot-10 senior forward/center Jared Berggren (15.2 ppg), 6-foot-1 junior guard Ben Brust (11.8 ppg), 6-foot-7 freshman forward/guard Sam Dekker (11.5 ppg) and 6-foot-6 senior forward Ryan Evans (10.5 ppg).

The Badgers are currently scoring 75.8 points per game and allowing 59.7. Virginia, meanwhile, averages 65.3 points per game and ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 53 per contest.


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