Badgers may be the least recognizable of the four teams in their regional
NEW ORLEANS Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and his players might want to pack their American Express cards or IDs before they head to New Orleans.
If they don’t, will anyone know who these guys are?
From a national perspective, fourth-seeded UW (25-8) might be the least recognizable of the four teams in the NCAA’s Southeast Regional.
Butler (25-9), which faces UW at 8:57 p.m. Thursday in the second regional semifinal, lost to Duke in the national title game last season. The Bulldogs have become a media darling because of their recent NCAA Tournament runs and their mid-major label that comes from playing in the Horizon League.
“They’re kind of everybody’s Cinderella,” UW sophomore Mike Bruesewitz said. “They’re kind of the new Gonzaga is probably the best way to put it.”
Second-seeded Florida (28-7) and third-seeded Brigham Young University (32-4), who meet in the first semifinal, have tradition and star-power on their respective résumés.
The Gators missed the NCAA Tournament in each of the last two seasons, but they won national titles in 2006 and ‘07 under coach Billy Donovan, who is in his 15th season at the school and remains one of the more recognizable coaches in the nation.
BYU senior guard Jimmer Fredette leads the nation in scoring at 28.8 points per game and is consistently mentioned by TV analysts as a top candidate to be named national player of the year. The Cougars also are eighth nationally in scoring at 81.6 points per game and most fans and analysts love offense.
“You think about BYU and you’ve got to think Jimmer Fredette first,” UW senior Jon Leuer said. “But he also has guys on his team that can help him out.”
And how do Ryan’s players believe the UW program is perceived by people outside the state?
Freshman Josh Gasser has been around for less than a full season, but he experienced that perception last weekend in Tucson, Ariz., when teammate Jordan Taylor was asked about UW’s offense.
“Someone asked Jordan what it was like playing in a boring style of offense,” Gasser said. “I don’t agree with that, obviously.
“People probably think we’re a defensive-minded team, which we are, a tough team (and) a team that’s not going to put up many points.
“We’ve shown that we can (score) and that we can beat any team in the country.”
Senior Keaton Nankivil has heard the same description for years.
“When you play in the system,” he said, “you learn to
respect quality basketball.”
After UW’s victory over Kansas State on Saturday, Ryan was asked how the Badgers were able to continue playing “Wisconsin basketball” despite the Wildcats’ defensive pressure.
“You would have to tell me what you think Wisconsin basketball is,” Ryan said to the questioner. “I can’t answer for you. Because we just try to be on the left-hand side (of the win-loss column) when the buzzer sounds. …
“What’s ‘Kansas State’ basketball?”
Asked this week whether such questions irritate him, Ryan suggested the opposite is true.
“I’ve never been irritated,” Ryan said. “I laugh. Inside I just go: ‘We got ‘em right where we want them.’
“I react that way because we are one of the most efficient teams in the country year in and year out. And it’s a lot of fun being that. Because you know you give your teams a chance when they go out onto the court. Now, sometimes the ball doesn’t go in. And you deal with that.
“If taking care of the ball and getting good shots and trying to (win) is a system I’ve always said: ‘Boy, I like that system.’ “
Taylor and Leuer are candidates for the prestigious Wooden Award, given to the top player in the nation. Taylor is a finalist for the Cousy Award, given to the top point guard.
Yet the biggest headline associated with UW before the NCAA Tournament was the 36-33 loss to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament.
Did you know that Butler averages 72.4 points per game, Florida is at 71.and UW is in the same neighborhood at 68.4?
“We just know how to play to win games,” Leuer said. “And I think Jordan said it best in the press conference a few days ago. There’s a lot of other channels on television, so if they think it is boring, watch something else.
“We’re just going to do whatever we have to do to get the job done and move on.”
UW hasn’t reached the Final Four since the surprising run in 2000.
A victory over Butler and over Florida or BYU would give Ryan, who won four Division III national titles at UW-Platteville, his first Final Four berth in Division I.
“Winning is pretty,” Taylor said. “Winning is contagious. We just like to win games.”