March 20, 2009

March madness begins for UW

The Wisconsin men's basketball team had just lost to Northwestern 66-63 capping its season, and all-time longest losing streak under Bo Ryan at six. The loss dropped UW to 3-6 in league play and 12-9 overall. The NCAA tournament was not even in question.

That was until the Badgers won seven of their final nine games of the regular season, including a five-game winning streak immediately following the six-game losing skid. After a solid showing, albeit a loss, in the Big Ten tournament, UW squeaked into the field of 65 as a No. 12 seed.

Tonight, when it takes the court to match skills with Florida State, UW will be one of only seven teams nationally to compete in 11 or more consecutive NCAA tournaments.

"I don't know if it was more a sense of relief more than a sense of accomplishment," UW sophomore forward Jon Leuer said in the days leading up to UW's first round game. "Making the tournament has always been one of our goals and now we're just going to keep moving forward."

In order to move into the weekend platter of games, the Badgers will need to defeat a Florida State team that has wins over California, Western Kentucky, Maryland, Clemson (twice) and North Carolina.

As a No. 5 seed, the Seminoles enter the game a three and a half point favorite of the Badgers, largely due to the play of senior guard Toney Douglas and his 21.3 points per game and suffocating defense.

"A guy like Douglas, he's in shape, he's got a motor that goes constantly," Ryan said. "Some guys you can wear down, make them play defense, make them chase some players and things like that. But Douglas, he doesn't get tired. So he's going to be a load."

In addition to Douglas, who was recently named Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year, the Seminoles feature five players that stand over 6-feet-9 on their roster including 7-foot-1 center Solomon Alabi.

On the year, Alabi has averaged 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as the team's second leading scorer. But his presence is felt as much defensively as it is offensively as his lanky body will alter shots if he is in the vicinity.

"We need to attack them," UW junior Jason Bohannon said earlier in the week. "When we jump up and go for lay-ups, we can't fall away and stuff like that because that's not going to give us an advantage at all.

"We need to go right into it and try to draw fouls and play smart basketball."

If there were any advantage leaning in the Badgers favor it would be the versatility of its big men. Leuer, along with Marcus Landry, Keaton Nankivil and Kevin Gullikson all have the capability to play on the perimeter. In doing so, that will draw the Seminole defenders out of the interior and forcing them to defend outward.

By having the FSU big men extend their defense to the perimeter, it will set the tempo in the Badgers favor, something that needs to happen if UW looks to advance.

"They're a very lengthy team," Bohannon said. "They have a lot of big guys and they're very athletic as well. We can't get into a kind of running match with them like that because they're very good in that."

Tip-off for the opening round game is slated for approximately 9 o'clock central time at Taco Bell Arena in Boise, Idaho.

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