Sixth-seeded Wisconsin (23-8 overall) and 14th seed Bucknell (23-9), who square off in an NCAA Tournament second round matchup at about 3:50 p.m., are two of the top-ranked defensive teams in Division I men's college basketball. They each pride themselves on getting after opposing offenses and sticking to their defensive game plan.
Recently, they have both been startlingly successful. The Badgers, who entered the tournament ranked 12th in the nation at 59.6 points allowed per game, have held opponents to 60 points or less in seven consecutive games.
The Bison, ranked ninth at 58.5 per game, have held foes to 60 or fewer in eight of their past 11 games. In winning the Patriot League conference tournament to secure a bid to the ‘Big Dance', Bucknell held three opponents to counts of 34, 35 and 57 points, a 42-points per game average.
Bucknell employs a matchup zone defense, something UW has not seen often this season.
"I think they are well disciplined. I think they are patient," assistant coach Gary Close said. "Matchup zone is something that can give people fits. They know what they are doing, how to play it."
"They get after it. They play real good help defense," UW guard Kammron Taylor said. "It is really hard to beat them off the dribble because they have guys in there waiting for you. I think, just like us, they are a well-coached team."
"It is something that the kids believe in," BU coach Pat Flannery said. "Once you find something the kids believe in you better go with it."
"It is more of a switching man and some zone principals," he said. "That really is where it came from."
The Badgers insist their offensive game plan remains the same regardless of what Bucknell throws at them: try to work the ball inside, and swing it around the perimeter to find open shots.
"Our ball movement is going to be really important against their zone," forward Mike Wilkinson said.
The Bison, though, are not successful simply because of scheme. Their defense, and team in general, runs through point guard Abe Badmus, the Patriot League's defensive player of the year.
A tough, athletic player, Badmus has made a habit of pestering opposition guards this season, a fact that may not bode well for a UW backcourt that has struggled against intense half-court ball pressure this season.
Though he only averages 5.3 points per game, Badmus is also a dynamo on the offensive end. The 6-foot sophomore, who averages 3.4 assists per game, had 11 helpers in Friday's surprising win over No. 3 seed Kansas.
"I don't know if he can have 11 every night but he certainly did against a very good team," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "You've got to make sure that you contain the angles and vision of a point guard that can deliver like that… He had assists in a lot of different ways, which means he's a good point guard. He made the other guys better.
"There were 11 baskets that were scored as a result of what he did. Being a former point guard I can really appreciate that."
Badmus' job is to set up The Bison's balanced offense. Junior guard Kevin Bettencourt leads the team with 12.9 points per game, and is the school's single season record holder in 3-pointers made, having hit 77 of 215 this year. Junior forward Charles Lee and sophomore center Chris McNaughton also average in double figures, at 12.6 and 12.2, respectively.
"That young man's getting better," Ryan said of McNaughton, who hit the game winning shot against Kansas. "He's got a nice feel in the post. He's better than he was early in the year."
Wisconsin, though, will match Bucknell's balance with a stingy defense of its own.
"We're just stepping up our level of play," Taylor said. "We really want to go far in this tournament. We want to give our seniors something to leave on, on a good note. I just think everybody is really just stepping up their defense."
What: Sixth seeded Wisconsin (23-8) vs. 14th seed Bucknell (23-9) in an NCAA Tournament second-round matchup.
When: Sunday, March 20 at approximately 3:50 p.m.
Where: The Ford Center (18,544) in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Broadcasts: The game will be televised live by CBS. The 46-city Wisconsin Radio Network will provide a radio broadcast.
Series notes: This is the first meeting between the two schools.