What: Wisconsin (24-6) v. Richmond (20-12), first round NCAA Tournament
When: Friday, March 19 at 6:20 p.m. CST
Site: Bradley Center, Milwaukee
Broadcasts: CBS, live television; Wisconsin Radio Network live radio
Series Notes: First ever meeting between the teams
March Madness is under way in college basketball. With the conference tournaments in the books, the national tournament has arrived carrying with it a great deal of anticipation and excitement for every team in the field still left standing.
With only three teams representing the Big Ten at the start of the tournament, and Michigan State already taking an early exit, the conference is at its most underrepresented in recent years.
However, after winning the Big Ten Tournament to kick off postseason play, sixth-seeded Wisconsin's positioning appears to be one of the most favorable in the tournament with potentially its first two rounds in the confines of the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. A perfect 15-0 this season at home, the Badgers will play only about 75 miles east from Madison in front of a clearly partisan crowd.
"We never take anything for granted but we'd be disappointed if we didn't see a lot of red," Badgers' head coach Bo Ryan said.
Taking on Richmond from the Atlantic 10 in its first round game Friday at 6:20 p.m., the Badgers have the luxury of essentially playing a home game when they take to the court for the NCAA Tournament, a very distinct advantage when playing such an unfamiliar opponent like the Spiders.
Surely one of the last at-large teams invited to the Big Dance, the Spiders merited a tournament invitation (it's first since 1998) largely in part for their efforts on the road during this season. Winning big games at Colorado, at Kansas and at Xavier in addition to a run to the A-10 tournament semifinals, the Spiders definitely deserve to be here after a 20-win season.
Richmond is led by the senior trio of Mike Skrocki, Tony Dobbins and Reggie Brown, who are averaging about 53 percent of the team's scoring. The Spiders have definitely gained the reputation of being a very physical yet well-controlled team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. This past season, Dobbins was name the Atlantic 10 defensive player of the year.
"Well, just a real physical team," Ryan said. "Play real hard. Use their hands a lot. Just kind of challenge the officials to make the calls. They play like Purdue does at Purdue and some other teams that we've played, like Wake Forest. They will just come out and get after you and then just more or less challenge the officials to make the calls. So you have to be able to deal with that."
"They seem like a pretty scrappy team on defense," senior guard Freddie Owens said. "They seem like they are pretty well coached. We've been playing teams like that all year so we pretty much know what we're in for."
For the Spiders to contend and prevail as a Cinderella team despite very distant odds, they'll undoubtedly need to control the Big Ten Player of the Year, UW junior guard Devin Harris.
Harris has been on a tear as of late, winning the most outstanding player award for the Big Ten Tournament as well the league's MVP honor.
"They have the conference's best player, so that helps," Richmond head coach Jerry Wainwright said. "They are versatile kids that have played a lot of basketball."
"All I know is that they are pretty big and physical," Scrocki said.
For the Badgers to come out on top, they'll need to continue playing their physical style of basketball on both ends of the court, primarily on the defensive side. To stop the Spiders, UW will need to focus its defensive pressure on Richmond's backcourt in order to limit the number of easy shots that they get. Over the last seven games, the Badgers have limited opponents to less than 40 percent shooting from the field, a product of the Big Ten's best defense this past season.
"(They) execute very smartly on offense: good penetrators, good shooters, take care of the basketball," Ryan said. "They didn't beat the teams that they beat because they couldn't play."
The two players to watch in this game will be Dobbins from Richmond and UW's Harris. Two of the best at their positions in the nation, the defensive-minded Dobbins will have his hands full if matched up with Harris. Offensively, Harris has been one of the best in the nation recently and will need to continue his exceptional play for the Badgers to hold on in the first round.