March Madness has finally arrived for the UW men's basketball team. After three grueling months of regular season basketball, the Badgers have been rewarded with a five-seed in the 2003 NCAA Tournament and take on No. 12 seed Weber State in the first round this evening.
UW (22-7 Overall, 12-4 Big Ten) and Weber State have been pooled into the Midwest bracket of the tournament with likes of Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Marquette and Dayton and will play their first round match up in Spokane, Washington. The two schools are very different in nearly all respects and will need to figure each other out quickly because of the do-or-die format of the tournament.
Coach Bo Ryan's Badgers are one of five teams representing the Big Ten in this year's tournament and won the regular season crown outright for the first time since 1947. Earning a No. 1 seed for the conference tournament last weekend, the Badgers were ousted in the quarterfinals by Ohio State, marking the second straight year the Badgers received a No. 1 seed for the tournament and lost in their first round game.
Leading the way for UW is senior guard Kirk Penney. Penney has been the staple of the Badgers this season, as he led the team in scoring, rebounds and assists, earning All-Big Ten first team honors. But the New Zealand native is the lone senior on the Badgers roster this season, indicating the youth movement that has hit Madison and its basketball program. The young guns on the Badgers have been led by sophomore guard Devin Harris and sophomore forward Mike Wilkinson, but more and more by freshman forward Alando Tucker.
For Weber State (26-5, 14-0) the story is a little different. The Wildcats took the Big Sky conference this year with style. Going 14-0 to run the table, Weber State is currently on a 17-game winning streak and considered one of the most viable Cinderella teams in the 65-team tournament. Coach Joe Cravens, in his fourth season as head coach, has his team in good position to make a solid run in the national tourney by building around the team concept and role players.
Leading the Wildcats is guard Jermaine Boyette and his 20.1 points per game. Boyette, the Big Sky player of the year, put down a season-high 37 points on Brigham Young during a Weber State victory in January. Weber State also features a junior native of Kraljevo, Serbia, Slobodan Ocokoljic. Ocokoljic, who averaged 8.9 rebounds and 17.6 points in conference games, was chosen the league's newcomer of the year in the Big Sky, after being redshirted last season after transferring from Ohio State.
For as little as these two teams know each other, the biggest key for both schools is to establish their own tempo and dictate the style of the game. Figuring out the opponents' personnel and tendencies will be tough, but the faster one school does it and adjusts, the harder it will be for the other.
Three Keys for Wisconsin:
1. Slowing the Game - The Badgers allow a Big Ten best 58.7 points per game because of their stifling, stingy defense. The Badgers are a more halfcourt-oriented team, offensively and defensively, and will need to limit the fast breaks and the running game of Weber State.
2. Getting out in Front - What's obvious for any team but more so for the Badgers is that they'll need to get an early lead in the contest. The Badgers are 30-5 under Bo Ryan when leading at the half and with their defense. It's been tough for the Badgers' opponents to come back from early deficits all season long.
3. Rebounds - This season, the Badgers were 17-1 when outrebounding their opponents.
Badgers-Weber State Preview
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