UNI (21-10 overall) enters the NCAA Tournament as the 11th-seed in the Syracuse Regional, earning an at-large bid after finishing tied for third in the Missouri Valley Conference. Sixth-seeded UW (22-8) will tip off against the Panthers at 6:20 p.m. Friday at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, Okla.
"They are the underdog, they are looking to upset a team," UW sophomore forward Alando Tucker said. "Teams like that aren't satisfied with just making it. They want to prove something to the world that, ‘Hey, we can play with anybody.'
"That is one thing we can't take for granted. We know they are going to dive on loose balls and they are going to be making an extra pass, getting an extra rebound, so we just have to make sure we match that."
The Panthers are not going to go quietly into the night. In the first round last season, they took 2004 NCAA runner-up Georgia Tech to the wire, before losing 65-60. They visited Cincinnati early this season and took the Bearcats to double-overtime early before losing by six and they dropped a road game to Iowa by just three.
"I don't think they are worried a whole lot about who they're playing," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "They are concerned, I'm sure, with making sure they do what they do well, which is what we try to do."
UNI boasts four players who average more than 10 points per game, including the MVC's leading scorer, 6-foot-3 junior guard Ben Jacobson, a sharpshooter whom the Badgers are well aware of.
"We know that they have an All-American candidate in Jacobson," sophomore guard Kammron Taylor said. "He can shoot it with the best of them in the country and we just know that they are a well-coached team."
Jacobson averages 17.8 points per game and has made a blistering 68 of 150 3-point attempts (45 percent). Two other players shoot 40 percent from long range on a UNI team that connects on 39 percent of its triples.
The Badgers, though, led the Big Ten in 3-pointer percentage defense, holding opponents a hair under 30 percent.
"It's just limiting 3s and looks," said senior guard Clayton Hanson, who will likely check Jacobson Friday evening. "If a guy gets a wide open 3 early in the game, things just kind of roll from there. If we just limit their open looks and make every shot they get a tough one, you have pretty good chances."
Badgers rested and ready
After playing three games in three days at the Big Ten Tournament in Chicago last weekend, Wisconsin took Monday off to recover, before practicing in Madison Tuesday.
"We came back [Tuesday] and the guys showed up ready to practice and worked hard," senior forward Mike Wilkinson said. "We'll be ready come Friday when we play."
The Badgers welcomed the chance to open tournament play Friday, which gave them an extra day of rest before they traveled to Oklahoma City Wednesday. It also gives the team an opportunity to watch Thursday's first-round games on television.
"I think that's always kind of neat, one of the advantages of playing Friday," Ryan said. "At least your players get to see some of the atmospheres."
"I think the extra day definitely will help us," senior guard Sharif Chambliss said. "[Monday] we had a day off, gave everybody a little chance to recuperate."