Wisconsin a No. 4 seed in East
Most important, he enjoyed seeing UW (24-9) receive a favorable seeding in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, No. 4 in the East.
“This team definitely earned that seed,” Ryan said. “I don’t think there is any question about that.
“I’m so happy for our guys because this is a gritty group.
I didn’t know we’d be sitting here. Wasn’t quite sure at times …
“So let’s see if we can’t keep it going.”
Ryan also knows he will see a familiar and friendly face on the opponent’s bench when the Badgers face 13th-seeded Montana (25-6) at 1:10 p.m. Thursday in Albuquerque, N.M.
The face of Freddie Owens.
Owens, in his third season at Montana, played at UW from 2000-’01 through 2003-’04 and helped UW win Big Ten regular-season titles in 2002 and ‘03 and the Big Ten tournament title in ‘04.
Ryan helped push Owens, a graduate of Milwaukee Washington High School, into coaching. And although Owens did not get the job at UW that eventually went to Lamont Paris in 2010, Ryan sees a bright future.
“He just didn’t have the years of experience yet,” Ryan said. “He needs to keep doing that, but I’m sure he’s going to move up on a lot of radar screens on assistant coaching jobs.”
The UW-Montana winner meets either fifth-seeded Vanderbilt (24-10) or 12th-seeded Harvard (26-4) on Saturday, with the start time to be determined. Vanderbilt and Harvard play after UW takes on the Griz.
Montana won the Big Sky regular season and tournament titles. Led by guards Will Cherry (16.0 ppg.) and Kareem Jamar (13.8 ppg.), the most valuable player of the Big Sky tournament, Montana enters the NCAA Tournament on a school-record 14-game winning streak.
“We’ve achieved our No. 1 goal now and that was winning the tournament championship to go to the NCAAs,” Montana coach Wayne Tinkle, a native of Milwaukee, said after the Grizzlies defeated Weber State, 85-66, in the Big Sky title game. “I’ll say this: We’re not out of goals yet.”
Nor is UW.
Although the Badgers are coming off a 13-point loss to Michigan State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament, they went 4-1 down the stretch and 12-4 after stumbling to a 1-3 start in league play.
“I mean, we always have that confidence that we feel like we can play with anyone,” junior center Jared Berggren said. “Who or when or where, it doesn’t matter.
“We feel like we can beat anyone when we stick to what we do well and execute our stuff.”
UW’s execution has been exemplary in most areas for the bulk of the season.
Defense: Only Iowa (twice) and Michigan State (two of three times) and Indiana (once) dominated UW’s defense.
Talk all you want about tempo and number of possessions aiding UW in limiting foes to 52.9 points per game. More telling is that UW has limited foes to 28.9 percent three-point shooting and 38.3 percent shooting overall.
“We just have a lot of versatility on defense,” senior guard Jordan Taylor said, “and a lot of guys who are willing just to work.”
UW entered the Big Ten tournament second nationally in fewest turnovers per game (8.9). The number entering NCAA play is 9.0.
-- UW entered the Big Ten tournament 38th nationally in free-throw shooting (73.9 percent) and improved that number to 74.1 percent after hitting 23 of 30 attempts in the league tournament.
-- The biggest area of concern, as it has been for much of the season, will be UW’s ability to hit shots and spread the scoring up and down the lineup.
-- The Big Ten tournament loss to Michigan State showed the Hyde side of UW’s offense. UW hit 17 of 49 shots (34.7 percent)—after hitting 7 of is first 11 shots—and got a combined six points from three starters.
-- Berggren hit 1 of 7 shots and finished with six points, all in the first half. Josh Gasser and Mike Bruesewitz were scoreless and combined to miss six field-goal attempts.
-- “You’ve got to come out and play hard every possession, every minute you get,” Taylor said. “Leave it all out there and see what happens.
“We feel like we’re going to come out and play well. …
“Obviously, we lost to a really good Michigan State team, but we feel confident. We feel like we’ve been playing well over the past couple months.”