Preview: No.4 Wisconsin vs. No.1 Syracuse

Making the Sweet 16 in back-to-back season for the first time in school history, No.4 seed Wisconsin now sets its sights on making its first Elite Eight appearance since 2005. To do that, the Badgers will face the East Region's top seed – No.1 Syracuse – in Boston's TD Garden tonight in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

No.4 Wisconsin (26-9, 12-6 Big Ten) vs. No.1 Syracuse (33-2, 17-1 Big East)

Date/Time - Thursday, March 22, 6:15 p.m. Central

Arena – TD Garden (18,624)

Television - CBS (Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery and Lesley Visser)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas); Westwood One (Kevin Kugler and Pete Gillen)

Series – Series tied 1-1 (Wisconsin leads 1-0 on neutral court)

Last Meeting – Syracuse won, 68-49, on November 13, 1999 in Syracuse, N.Y.

Wisconsin Probable Starters

5 Ryan Evans (6-6 Junior Forward, 11.1 ppg)

11 Jordan Taylor (6-1 Senior Guard, 14.7 ppg)

21 Josh Gasser (6-3 Sophomore Guard, 7.7 ppg)

31 Mike Bruesewitz (6-6 Junior Forward, 5.7 ppg)

40 Jared Berggren (6-10 Junior Forward, 10.3 ppg)

Off the Bench

1 Ben Brust (6-1 Sophomore Guard, 7.0 ppg)

33 Rob Wilson (6-4 Senior Guard, 4.2 ppg)

44 Frank Kaminsky (6-11 Freshman Forward, 1.9 ppg)

Syracuse Probable Starters

5 C.J. Fair (6-8 Sophomore Forward, 8.3 ppg)

11 Scoop Jardine (6-2 Senior Guard, 8.6 ppg)

20 Brandon Triche (6-4 Junior Guard, 9.1 ppg)

25 Rakeem Christmas (6-9 Freshman Forward, 2.7 ppg)

32 Kris Joseph (6-2 Senior Forward, 13.7 ppg)

Off the Bench

3 Dion Waiters (6-4 Sophomore Guard, 12.7 ppg)

12 Baye Keita (6-10 Sophomore Center, 2.2 ppg)

43 James Southland (6-8 Junior Guard, 7.1 ppg)

Last Time Out

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Senior guard Jordan Taylor hit a crucial 3-pointer as the shot clock expired to give fourth-seeded Wisconsin its final lead and junior Jared Berggren swatted and inbounds pass to prevent a shot on the final play of regulation to preserve the Badgers' 60-57 win over fifth-seeded Vanderbilt in the third round of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament.

The win propels Wisconsin (26-9) into the Sweet Sixteen for the third time in the last six years and fourth time over under head coach >Bo Ryan.

Taylor, who scored a game-high 14 points on 5 of 14 shooting, hit a crucial 3-pointer with 1:40 left in the game to give the Badgers a 59-57 lead and end a 13-3 Vanderbilt run that gave the Commodores a 57-56 lead at the 2:19 mark of the second half.

"Coach just said to me that I had to step up and take a shot," said Taylor. "And then Josh (Gasser) with that huge offensive rebound with 16 seconds left, I can't say enough about him. He was throwing up at 3 a.m. this morning. But he did a great job coming in."

Gasser's board at that point, coming off a 3-point miss by Taylor, prevented a clean chance at a tying or winning basket.

Vanderbilt still had a chance down the stretch to steal the victory though, but John Jenkins' trey with four seconds left in the game fell short and senior Ryan Evans grabbed the rebound and was fouled.

"(Jenkins is) one of the best shooters in the country, so when you see him that wide open your heart just kind of drops," said Taylor. "My mom already bought tickets to Boston so I was hoping that we would pull out the win. But Jared did a great job of recovering there and making it as difficult as possible and Ryan did a great job down low of securing the rebound. It was a definitely a heart-stopping moment."

But the Commodores still had a last chance, in-bounding the ball after Evans' missed free throw. Berggren, who finished the game with 12 points and 5 rebounds, jumped high and swatted the ball to change its direction and deny Vanderbilt a final shot.

"We knew they couldn't run and they weren't going to throw anything short – it was going to be a long pass," said Berggren. "So coach told me to keep my hands up, use my length and try to get a finger tip on it and I ended up pretty much getting my whole hand on it for the deflection."

UW coach Bo Ryan said the game came down to plays that the Badgers were able to make and the Commodores were not.

"We were the beneficiaries of maybe a play here or there," said Ryan. "But (Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings) was right about another thing – there were a lot of 50-50 balls and we did get ‘em and that's a tribute to these guys."

Junior Mike Bruessewitz and Evans each finished with 10 points while sophomore Ben Brust burst out of a recent slump to score 11 points, all in the second half. Brust's three treys in the second half kept the Badgers in the game.

- By Kenn Rodriguez – Special to

Series Notes:

The Badgers and Orange split the first two meetings with UW winning 31-24 in 1927 (played in Cleveland) and Syracuse claiming a 68-49 home win in 1999 in the finals of the NABC Classic.

UW is 101-100 all-time vs. members of the Big East.

UW and SU have had 2 mutual opponents this season: the Badgers lost to Big East member Marquette, 61-54 earlier this season (Syracuse defeated MU, 73-66), and both teams also defeated Colgate.

Wisconsin played in Syracuse's Carrier Dome in the 2005 NCAA Tournament Regionals, defeating No. 10 NC State before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina in the Elite Eight.

Thursday will mark UW's first-ever game in the city of Boston. UW has faced Boston College 6 times (all in neutral setting) and hosted Harvard in 1942.

The Badgers are 1-5 all-time vs. No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament. The lone win came in a 66-59 decision over No. 1 Arizona in the second round of Wisconsin's run to the 2000 Final Four.

Head coaches Bo Ryan and Jim Boeheim are two of just 41 coaches in NCAA history (any level) to have posted at least 650 wins. The duo ranks 2nd and 4th in win percentage among active Division I coaches with 500 career wins.

Wisconsin's 16 NCAA tournament wins since 2001-02 (Bo Ryan era) rank 10th in the nation and 2nd among Big Ten teams (Michigan State - 21).

Wisconsin Notes

Wisconsin has established itself as one of the country's most regular visitors to the Sweet 16, boasting 5 appearances in the last 10 years and 3 trips in the last 5 seasons. Only 4 schools (Duke, Kansas, Michigan State and North Carolina) have advanced to more Sweet 16s than Wisconsin (5) since 2003. Wisconsin's 3 trips to the Sweet 16 ranks 3rd in the nation over the last 5 seasons, trailing only Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina and Xavier.

The all-time wins leader at Wisconsin, Bo Ryan has posted his 650th and 651st career wins in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. He is one of just five active Div. 1 coaches in the 650-win club and owns the 2nd-best win pct. (.762) among that group.

The Badgers lead the nation allowing opponents an NCAA-low 52.9 points per game. UW also ranks among the nation's top 10 in FG defense (38.5 percent), 3-point FG defense (.288), 3-pointers allowed per game (3.5) and defensive points per possession (0.89)

Syracuse Notes:

James Southerland had 15 points off the bench to help Syracuse defeat Kansas State on March 17. It was the second 15-point effort of the tournament for him.

Rakeem Christmas asserted himself into the fray versus the Wildcats and emerged with a career-best 11 boards. His eight points were the most he's tallied since 8 against Providence on January 14.

Dion Waiters and James Southerland are each averaging 15.0 points per game in the NCAA Tournament this year.

Syracuse's only other Boston appearance in the NCAA Tournament came in 2003 when the Orange opened the postseason with victories against Manhattan and Oklahoma State. SU went on to win the NCAA Championship that season.

Syracuse is 0-6 against the Big Ten in the NCAA Tournament (0-1 vs. Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State).


While some teams replace three starters with McDonald's All-Americans, Wisconsin replaced them with a late-bloomer, a center recovering from shoulder surgery and a slumping scorer. Yet here the Badgers are in the Sweet 16, once again having the ability to defy the odds and the ‘experts' opinions by surpassing last year's win total and winning at Illinois, Purdue and Ohio State.

"This team has done some things that if you're a real basketball person, you've got to go, wow," Ryan said. "Everybody knows we have weaknesses. Jordan Taylor. Without Jordan Taylor, it's not the same. I'd like to say it's coaching but nobody would believe that. It's guys working hard."

Ryan demands a lot from his team. The veteran coach has built a power at a school with a recent football reputation by recruiting tough-minded players willing to buy into his system of hard work and defense. The Badgers landed in Boston on the strength of solid defense, steady play of Jordan Taylor and getting key contributions from several players. Taylor hit numerous key baskets to propel the Badgers to a 60-57 triumph over the Commodores, including hitting a 3-pointer with less than two minutes left that handed the lead for good to the Badgers.

"If we get the ball to him late in the shot clock, he will make sure to always do good things," said Gasser of Taylor's big shots in the win over Vanderbilt. "He's been doing it all year and all of last year. He is the leader of this team and we want the ball in his hands at the end of the game. He usually makes it happen. He didn't want this to be his last game and he definitely showed it."

For a team that entered the postseason ranked No. 2 in the country, Syracuse has had more than its fair share of skeptics, and the stretches of sluggish play on the first weekend did nothing to alleviate those concerns. As a result, this team is somehow a No. 1 seed that has the mentality of an underdog.

One concern heading into the Sweet 16 for Syracuse is rebounding. The Orange had issues on the glass all year in Big East play, and surrendered 25 offensive rebounds against Kansas State in the NCAA Tournament. Considering its regional semifinal opponent Wisconsin is a gritty rebounding team, the Syracuse big men are going to be put to the test, especially freshman forward Rakeem Christmas.

"He's just kind of figuring it out," coach Jim Boeheim said of Christmas. "I think the last probably five or six weeks, he's been playing more at center in practice, working more inside, inside game, inside drill work. You know, he really is better and more comfortable at center. Early in the year we didn't play him there. Now that he gets that opportunity, he's ready."

This isn't exactly Boeheim's first NCAA Tournament. Syracuse's victory over Kansas State in the Round of 32 was his 47th win in the Big Dance, tying him with John Wooden for fifth place. So it shouldn't be surprising when he didn't panic when Fab Melo was declared ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, or fret too much when 16th-seeded UNC-Asheville gave it all it could handle in the opener.

Wisconsin's season-long formula to winning games is rather simple. Play tough defense and hold teams under their season scoring average. Get steady play from point guard Taylor. Have Taylor hit a key shot at critical times of a game. Get unexpected production from a bench player. Make 3-pointers. The Badgers hit 10 3-pointers in each of last week's NCAA Tournament victory.

This isn't exactly Ryan's first NCAA Tournament, but UW knows it has a great opportunity to make a Final Four run … and it knows it missed a great opportunity last season in its porous Sweet 16 loss to Butler. That taste is still in the mouths of seniors Taylor and Rob Wilson, and I think that plays a factor.

Syracuse won a school-record 20 straight games to start the season - the best run by a Big East team since Boston College ripped off 20 straight in 2004-05 – and have won 13 of their last 14 games entering Thursday night. None of those games, however, have been against a team like Wisconsin.

Taylor has a fantastic game, the Badgers hit enough threes against the zone, out tough the Orange inside for rebounds, frustrate Syracuse with their style of tough play and move one step closer to New Orleans with a four-point victory.

Worgull's Record: 27-8

Points off Prediction: 322 (9.2 per game)

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