Wisconsin Badgers' Blueprint to Win the 2014 NCAA Tournament
From the opening minutes, Wisconsin found itself playing from behind in its Big Ten conference tournament semifinal game against Michigan State. The Badgers worked hard to cut into the lead and made it a contest well into the second half, but they dropped an 83-75 decision and once again failed to win the Big Ten tournament.
Despite that loss, Wisconsin earned the No. 2 seed in the West Region, and the Badgers will face American University in its opening tournament game.
Wisconsin won nine of its last 11 games down the stretch and should easily be able to put their conference tournament disappointment behind them. The Badgers have the kind of strength, versatility and skill to make a long run in the tournament.
Bo Ryan's team has a lot more going for it than just toughness and defense, though, as this Badgers team can also shoot and score.
The Badgers are one of the smartest, sharpest and most complete teams in the NCAA tournament.
There's a good reason for that, as the five starters in the lineup know each other incredibly well. Head coach Bo Ryan was able to use the same starting lineup of Ben Brust, Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, Traveon Jackson and Josh Gasser in all 33 games the Badgers played this season.
Can any other team in the NCAA tournament say that?
Not only does a team have to be free of major injuries, but it also has to be devoid of off-the-court problems in order to have a chance to put the same group on the court each game.
The Badgers also get a good contribution from the team's bench—led by Nigel Hayes and his 8.0 points per game—and it is this consistency and productivity that could take them a long way in the tournament.
Light Up the Scoreboard
In the past, Wisconsin basketball was all about hustle, hard defense and physical play. That's no longer the case for the Badgers, though, as they have developed into an excellent offensive team that can outscore and outshoot opponents.
Wisconsin averaged 73.5 points per game this season, a figure that ranked fourth in the Big Ten. They can fill it up when they have to, and if you want to make them run, it's not necessarily a problem for the Badgers.
"This is not your typical Wisconsin team," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "They run. They can score. They've got times when they've got five shooters on the floor. It is a hard team to defend."
"I told them after, let's get to a Final Four, because they're good enough. I really mean that."
Turn Up the Defense
As previously mentioned, Wisconsin has shown that they are no longer a one-dimensional team, as they can run and fill it up on offense.
But at what expense? This team has traditionally been one of the toughest defensive teams not only in the Big Ten, but in the nation, while they also always went hard to the boards and punished opponents.
According to the numbers this season, however, Wisconsin is not the defensive team it has been in the past. Opponents are shooting .431 from the field, per BigTen.org, and that ranks 11th in the conference. Additionally, the Badgers have a rebounding margin of only plus-1.1 per game. While they are on the plus-side of the battle, that figure ranks seventh in the Big Ten.
If the Badgers can't turn up the defensive pressure in the tournament, that's going to make it quite difficult to put a run together against opponents who are proficient on the offensive end. This could be an issue.
Listen to Bo
Bo Ryan has had his team performing well down the stretch, even if they were eliminated by eventual conference tournament champion Michigan State in the semifinal.
He is not about to tighten his grip. Since his first year with the program in 2001-02, Ryan has been to the NCAA tournament every year. He has also been an exceptional tournament coach, winning his team's first-round game 11 times and getting to the Sweet 16 or better five times.
Ryan does not allow his team to come with anything but their best, and his players respond to his tough but fair approach.
Predictions for NCAA Tournament Draw
The Badgers open up tournament play against American University of the Patriot League. The Eagles finished second in the conference during the regular season to Boston University, but they ran through their postseason tournament and turned up the defensive pressure in a 55-36 win over the Terriers to clinch their NCAA berth.
In other words, American plays the kind of game that the Badgers are used to, with a tight, suffocating brand of defense. It won't bother Wisconsin, as Ryan's team will run away from American in the second half.
The Badgers will almost certainly play Oregon in the third round. The Ducks will give them a battle, but look for Wisconsin to prevail, as this will be a virtual home game in Milwaukee.
The Sweet 16 could see the Badgers facing an impressive Creighton team or Big Ten rival Nebraska. Both of those teams have heart and talent, but the Badgers will survive once again.
If the Badgers win their first three games, they will likely face the top-seeded Arizona Wildcats for the right to go to the Final Four. Wisconsin should get the edge after facing a demanding Big Ten schedule this season.
Can Ryan's team make its NCAA championship dreams come true? Not likely. The Badgers will likely face either defending champion Louisville or Wichita State if they are to make the Final Four. They won't beat either one of those teams.
In the end, Wisconsin should make it to San Antonio and play on Saturday, but it will not make it to Monday night.