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Off to a Good Start

Leuer, Nankivil lead potent frontcourt as Badgers overpower Eagles' one-man show

MADISON, Wis. - Forwards Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil did what seniors with size are supposed to do against a team whose tallest player stands at 6-5. They dominated.

Leuer and Nankivil combined for 30 of the Badgers' 84 points as Wisconsin rolled to an 84-59 victory over UW-La Crosse in the team's first exhibition game at the Kohl Center. They shot a combined 11-of-21 from the floor to lead the Badgers, who missed junior guard Rob Wilson for most of the game.

Leuer took the ball inside early and often, scoring 14 of his 15 points in the first half. He dunked four times in the game's first 13 minutes and got to the free throw line with consistency.

"We always want to get the ball inside early and get a rhythm going because that is your highest percentage in shots," Leuer said. "I was trying to be aggressive and take advantage of the opportunities that I got. We obviously had a size advantage."

Nankivil kept the Eagles' defense honest, hitting two three-pointers and showing that the Badgers can be dangerous with two big men who shoot well.

The seniors contributed to a 41-23 rebounding edge for Wisconsin over a UW-La Crosse team that had no answer for the Badgers' size. Leuer grabbed ten boards and the team kept possessions alive with 15 offensive rebounds.

One of the staples of head coach Bo Ryan's program is senior leadership and every year the new group of fourth-year players are expected to fill the void left by the departing graduates. So far, Leuer and Nankivil, the cornerstones of a big senior class that includes Tim Jarmusz, Wquinton Smith, Brett Valentyn and J.P. Gavinski, are doing the job.

"We are a team that's based a lot on seniority; you can see that in the way we play," Nankivil said. "A lot of [the freshmen], when they have questions, the first thing they do is spout it out to us. We get to teach them that way."

While Leuer emerged as a potential Big Ten Player of the Year candidate a season ago before injuring his wrist and missing nine games, Nankivil appears to have made his biggest strides this offseason. A starter since his sophomore year, the Madison native looks as aggressive and comfortable as ever, with a more polished inside game and a smooth outside shot.

With a streaky point guard in Jordan Taylor, an injured Rob Wilson and little backcourt depth, the Badgers are likely to go as far as their two dynamic forwards take them.

They acquitted themselves well in their first test of the season.

Mane goes off

It became clear early on that there was only one player for Wisconsin to worry about defensively: senior guard Tony Mane. He finished with 24 of La Crosse's 59 points on 10-of-20 shooting, and Ryan admired the fact that he made four assists without committing a single turnover.

Mane made every kind of shot imaginable, including a few of the "how did that go in the net?" variety.

"I've seen him make a lot of those," head coach Ken Koelbl said. "He stretches the defense. You have to pay a lot of attention to him and hopefully that will create a lot of opportunities for our other guys. Tony is a special player."

The Badgers were largely content to let him have his way since the rest of the Eagles did very little. Forward Michael Hanson dropped 11 second-half points to join Mane in double figures, but the remainder of the team combined for 18 points. Still, the individual effort was impressive.

"[Mane] does a lot for us," Koelbl said. "There is no doubt about it on the offensive end. He always was a very good scorer and he can create shots. What I really like about [him] is he has really grown as a player. He's become much more complete."

Ryan admitted that in his eagerness to experiment with a variety of unique combinations on the floor, he may have compromised the team's effectiveness in guarding Mane.

"I probably could have done a better job of having bigs at big spots, smalls at wings and perimeters," Ryan said. "I wanted to try to get a look at a lot of people, so it served its purpose."

Hey, that's what the exhibition season is for, right?

Welcome, Freshmen

The preseason is also a time to evaluate the team's new class of freshmen.

Ryan generally leaves the decision of whether to take a redshirt year up to the individual players, who are permitted to participate in exhibition games before making that choice.

It was a bit surprising to only see one of the four rookies on the floor before halftime. Guard Josh Gasser played 20 minutes and finished with nine points and no turnovers.

In the second period, though, we got a look at forward Duje Dukan, guard Ben Brust and center Evan Anderson. Of those, Anderson seems the likeliest to take an extra year because of the logjam at the frontcourt positions and because big men generally take longer to develop, especially in Ryan's offense.

Gasser could contribute right away, especially if Wilson is limited by his hamstring injury for any serious length of time. None of the other three were on the court long enough for us to reach any conclusions. Dukan did heave a shot towards the basket at the buzzer from the red paint near center court that went in. Brust appears to have a nice jumper.

Expect to see more of the kids Wednesday night against Minnesota State.

Also expect this to be a team led by its seniors, no matter how strong the underclassmen look.