When the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team opened the 2004 NCAA tournament in Milwaukee, Josh Gasser was a 12-year-old growing up in Port Washington, wishing he was at the Bradley Center to cheer on the Badgers.

“At that point in time,” Gasser said Sunday, “I was just trying to imagine myself playing there, and I obviously never thought that was going to happen.”

Given that backdrop, one can imagine how pleased Gasser was to find out UW was granted its wish of staying close to home to open this year’s event. The Badgers (26-7), making their 16th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, are a No. 2 seed in the West region and will open play at 11:40 a.m. Thursday against American (20-12), a No. 15 seed, at the Bradley Center.

Arizona is the top seed in the West, with third-seeded Creighton looming as a potential Sweet 16 matchup for the Badgers in Anaheim, Calif., if they can get past American in the opener and either Oregon or BYU in the round of 32.

The Badgers’ previous trip to Milwaukee for the NCAA tournament ended on a sour note. UW, issued a No. 6 seed despite winning the Big Ten Conference tournament and being No. 12 in the Ratings Percentage Index, beat Richmond 76-64 in the first round, using a 34-8 run to overcome a 13-point, second-half deficit.

But the Badgers’ season ended with a 59-55 loss to Pittsburgh, the No. 3 seed. UW coach Bo Ryan later called it an “outright injustice” that the Badgers were seeded so low.

There was nothing to complain about this time after UW was rewarded with the No. 8 overall seed in the tournament.

The Badgers are the only team among the top eight overall seeds without a league championship on its resume — they finished in a tie for second place in the Big Ten during the regular season and lost in the tournament semifinal to eventual champion Michigan State — but Ryan’s team produced a 17-6 record against teams in the top 100 of the RPI. Eight of those victories came away from home.

“If you look at the body of work, which they always talk about,” Ryan said, “I think it was very deserved.”

American, a private school with 7,212 undergraduates located in Washington, D.C., is making its third trip to the NCAA tournament. It lost in the first round in 2008 and 2009.

The Eagles were 10-20 last season and were picked ninth out of 10 teams in the Patriot League preseason poll this season.

But Mike Brennan, a former Georgetown assistant who replaced Jeff Jones as coach, led American to a second-place finish in the Patriot during the regular season, and the visiting Eagles beat top-seeded Boston University 55-36 in the tournament final last Wednesday.

“It’s a great accomplishment for our guys,” Brennan said. “I’m glad we won the championship on Wednesday and had a few days to let it sink in before we knew who we were playing. Our guys have had a chance to enjoy it, so now it’s just getting back to work and preparing for Wisconsin.”

When asked about playing UW, Brennan said: “I knew we’d have a tough matchup. I have a lot of respect for coach Ryan, and his team is always very disciplined at both ends of the floor.”

The Eagles have four players averaging in double figures, led by sophomore guard Jesse Reed at 14.0 points per game. Senior Tony Wroblicky, a 6-foot-10 center, was named the Patriot’s defensive player of the year after blocking 61 shots, giving him a program-record 151 for his career.

Brennan was a four-year starter at Princeton under legendary coach Pete Carril, so it’s not surprising the Eagles run Carril’s famous “Princeton offense” that features constant motion and backdoor cuts.

“They run a lot of stuff that’s tough to guard,” Ryan said.

For Gasser, this NCAA tournament will be extra special because he was forced to watch from the sidelines last season while recovering from a knee injury that wiped out his entire season. UW, a No. 5 seed, exited early with a 57-46 loss to Mississippi, only the second time in Ryan’s first 12 seasons the Badgers failed to make it past their first game.

“This time last year was definitely the hardest time for me,” Gasser said. “Obviously, the couple weeks after the injury were tough, but I think the hardest part was watching our guys compete in championship-type moments and not being able to help at all.

“So now, to be in this moment, it’s all about taking advantage of that and just trying to have some fun with it.”

As much as they were happy to be rewarded with a trip to Milwaukee, the Badgers understand it doesn’t guarantee them anything.

“It’s good to be close to home,” UW senior guard Ben Brust said. “But we’ve got to show up when the ball is tipped, because everyone is going to bring it in March.”

Jim Polzin covers Wisconsin Badgers men's basketball for the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(16) comments

Crow Barr
Crow Barr

Be careful Badgers, Big Ten is already Zero and One in the tournament!

Honorary Kentucky Colonel

The strategy of making picks based on which Mascot can beat up the other actually kept someone in contention in the pool I run a couple of years back.

Unless there's a Snapping Turtle team, if it's a pound for pound sheer tenacity and ornery toughness, that approach would paws down have the Wolverine meeting the Badger in the final.

And anyone familiar with the Wolverine would have to give them the edge.

Go Badgers!

kooler

i like our chances against michigan.

Honorary Kentucky Colonel

kooler

Agreed, but I was just referring to mascots and a wolverine would be the last critter I'd want to mess with! A Badger being the close second.

If Pre Season AA Mitch McGary had been available this year, we'd be having an entirely different conversation right now I suspect.

I was hoping that MN guy that was crowing when MN beat us would show up back here.

I'd welcome the opportunity to ask what chances might be expected from a Golden Gopher.

Go Badgers!

XLBadger

IMO, a simple matter of Badgers staying focused, disciplined and unselfish ... Bo's game plan and rules will give them their best chance of winning, not individual stats or highlights ... that'll come along the way, but team players must stay within the system of Bo's "game by rules" ...

todd63

The Badgers received a good draw and have a chance to make it to the Final Four if Bo remembers to play Hayes.

It is great that Bo has gotten the team to the tournament so many consecutive years but he is sometimes an inflexible curmudgeon in his substitution patterns so the best players are sometimes not on the court long enough to get into the flow of the game. For example:

-When he does play freshmen, a single mistake or two often gets them pulled from the game for extended periods. Against Nebraska Hayes threw a bad pass then sat for most of the rest of the first half. He played for less than 20 minutes and the Badgers lose. The next game against Minnesota, Hayes played for more than 20 minutes and had a great game, Badgers win big. Against MSU, he played only 14 minutes (maybe took a bad shot or two to get pulled), Badgers lose.

-Also if a player picks up a couple of quick fouls in the first half they almost always sit for the entire half. In a game during the losing streak, Kaminsky had a couple of early first half fouls and then sat the rest of the half. He played in the second half and ended the entire game with only two fouls.

Come on Bo, be more flexible and keep your best players on the court longer to get into the flow, maybe even play Hayes and Kaminsky together more, and hopefully make it to the Final Four this year!

Short Guy

2 Seed for us. 4 Seeds for both Louisville and Michigan St.? I don't think so. Michigan St. pounded UW, no contest. UW also lost 2 of their last 3. A 2 Seed? After they beat American that might be the season.

repubsaresheep

Mich St. also 'pounded' Michigan, but the overall 'body of work' also matters. UW beat Mich St. earlier this year too, and has a very high RPI. So what about that?

I sure hope Bucky starts making their shots! If so, tough to beat! Will be a fun tourney...

Short Guy

repubsaresheep, hard to judge your brief comment. Beg to differ tho, body of work should matter only as a foundation for consideration and arguably less than peaking at tourney time. Mich. St. - yes UW - not. When UW beat Florida how many Fl. starters were out? (hint: lots) When we beat Virginia, UW may have been better then? (or just lucky?). Not now. UW lost 2 of the last 3, (5 of 6 during the season) and are way overseeded at "2". When UW beat Mi. St. it was without Payne, Appling and at HOME AND UW was lucky to win by 2 points. I do not understand some "experts" picking UW for the final 4 when MI. St. is seeded # 4 yet picked to win it all. (??) Maybe it's a subliminal payback for being underseeded other years. Every other NCAA tourney Top 8 selection won their conference tournament. My observation is whenever UW faces a truly intense defense they are unable to deal with it. Do you think that because the first 2 games would be in Wisconsin that this is a major reason that UW is picked to advance to the Sweet 16? Bucky koolaid is the only flavor you get if you don't look elsewhere. Have some coffee.

squirrel

don't forget to mention Florida was missing 6 players the night we whooped them. Not our fault they couldn't play don't get me wrong. Virginia has improved immensely since our game. What matters is what we do from this week on. Looks like a VERY favorable draw for Bucky and a final 4 appearance is not out of the question. Looks to be an interesting tournament On Wisconsin

Honorary Kentucky Colonel

"Whooped?"

Bucky was down by a ton and gutted their way back in.

I heard FL was missing 3 players, & UVa has gotten better; so's Bucky.

"Looks like a VERY favorable draw for Bucky and a final 4 appearance is not out of the question. Looks to be an interesting tournament On Wisconsin"

I like your thinking!

Go Badgers!

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

Aside from the obvious (somewhere in America), where is American? Do we have a sense of how big a school it is? I've never even heard of them before.

matt90210

Dc

adamman

Being from D.C., all the players are sons of congressmen. So they play an extreme slow down offense and try to create confusion on the floor, err, the court.
Their favorite play is the filibuster, which they use to extend the game to 96 hours and wear down the opposition. They also draw a lot of technical fouls, mostly for molesting the cheerleaders.
Should be lot's of Republicans in the stands for the game.

RichardSRussell
RichardSRussell

Thanks to Jim Polzin for filling in this info in a subsequent update.

Honorary Kentucky Colonel

Bucky has whupped two of the four top seeds, including the # 1 overall and one on the road.

Interesting stat, but anyone that fills out their brackets in ink should pay it no mind.

ThreePeat winner Avis from accounting won't.

Go Badgers!

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