Wisconsin Aims to Refocus

Wisconsin didn't need a reminder of what could happen in the month of March if it didn't play a 40 minute game, but its performance in the conference tournament semifinals was the wake-up call the Badgers needed.

MADISON - Winners of eight of nine entering the postseason, Wisconsin played three really good halves of basketball during its Big Ten tournament run.

But at this time of year, anything less than an incomplete performance will get a team sent home.

"If you're going to go down, you want to go down swinging for 40 minutes," said UW associate head coach Greg Gard following Saturday's 83-75 loss to eventual tournament champion Michigan State. "I don't know if (Saturday) is a microcosm of how we've been through the season. We've been really good at times and then you kind of shake your head, scratch your head.

"Three out of four halves being very good, you get sent home this time of year. You've got to be good four-out-of-four halves to advance."

Wisconsin journey for six straight complete performances begin on Thursday, as the Badgers (26-7) earned a No. 2 in the West Regional and face 15th-seeded American University at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Tip-off is set for 11:40 a.m. and the game is to be televised by truTV.

"It'll be good to play at home, but it really can't matter," said junior Traevon Jackson. "At the end of the day it's a tournament and teams really don't care if it's home or away. We just have to come and play regardless of where we play at."

The winner plays Saturday against either No. 7 Oregon (23-9) or No. 10 BYU (23-11), with the starting time to be determined. Those teams meet Thursday after the conclusion of UW's game.

Wisconsin was playing for one of the four top seed in the tournament eight days ago, but lost that chance when they weren't the aggressors at the opening tip for the second time in three games. Nebraska shot 53.6 percent in the first half in the regular season finale, while Michigan State shot a robust 65.4 percent. Both of those led to UW's only losses since Feb.1.

"We don't want to use that as a learning tool right now in March," said senior Ben Brust. "We know if we don't come out and compete 110 percent, match their energy and make plays to be successful, we know what happens."

Brust and a good helping of his teammates got a not-so-friendly reminder last season, as Wisconsin was bounced in its opening game for the first time since 2006, losing 57-46 to Ole Miss in Kansas City, Mo. Wisconsin shot 25.4 percent in that game, which was why UW coach Bo Ryan quipped "make shots" under his breath when a reporter asked what UW needed to do different in 2014 to extend its tournament stay.

"Teams didn't get here just by luck of the draw," said Brust. "They got here with hard work over the whole year. Whoever we play is going to bring it. Nothing is going to be given to you. You just have to go out there and take it. Last year we didn't make enough shots as the game happened. You got to be the aggressor and the one making the statement. You can't be on your heels."

There have only been seven No.15 seeds to upset a No. 2 seed since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Three of those 15-2 upsets have occurred in the past two NCAA tournaments. Last year, Florida Gulf Coast defeated Georgetown and became the first 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. In 2012, Lehigh and Norfolk State knocked off Duke and Missouri, respectively, within hours of each other.

American (20-12) might not have the offensive numbers - but 316th in points per game (63.9) and 339th in rebounding (30.1) – but the Eagles won the Patriot League's automatic bid based on their defense.

Led by first-year coach, Mike Brennan, who previously served as an assistant at Georgetown for four seasons, the Eagles are seventh in the county in scoring defense (58.6 points per game) and didn't allow more than 50 points in any of their three conference tournament games, including holding Boston University to only 36 points on its home floor.

And while they don't put up a lot of points, American is efficient with its Princeton offense, an offer Brennan played in at Princeton, ranking seventh in the country in FG percentage (49.5 percent).

"There's really not that much of a difference between the (seeds)," said Jackson. "They are still going to be really good teams. If you make it to the tournament, you are good regardless of where you are from and what conference you are in. We just have to come out prepared and ready to play."

Finishing in the top 10 in the RPI, with the nation's third-toughest schedule, Wisconsin went 6-2 against AP Top 25 teams and set a program record for wins away from the Kohl Center, going 12-4 overall, (8-3 on the road, 4-1 in neutral sites).

The Badgers are also 9-4 against the NCAA tournament field - and are only team with two wins over No. 1 seeds (Florida, at Virginia).

"I think it's been good," said Jackson. "I think we left some games behind but from the type of schedule we had and the type of conference we played in, I felt we did a pretty good job of doing what we needed to do."

Jackson called Michigan State a "Final Four type of team," which falls in line with a good portion of college basketball analysis are saying in the hours after the pairings were announced. Since UW will likely see a high caliber team who can either shoot, play physical or both at some point, the Badgers got the wake-up call delivered right to them.

"We see what type of team we're going to have to go up against and what teams are going to do to us," said Jackson. "We have to be able to counter that and learn from that. If we don't, then we're going home early."

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