Badgers open tournament play with Eagles

Mar 20, 2014 - 2:34 PM Milwaukee, WI ( - Participating in the NCAA Tournament for the 16th year in a row, the second-seeded Wisconsin Badgers get their first- ever look at the Eagles of American University as the two programs collide in second-round action at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Wisconsin was one of the hottest teams in the country through the first two months of the 2013-14 campaign, stringing together 16 consecutive wins right out of the chute, but then the Big Ten Conference schedule began in earnest. Following wins over Northwestern, Iowa and Illinois, the squad lost three straight and five of the next six before regaining its composure. The Badgers managed to mount an eight-game win streak before an unlikely loss to Nebraska in the regular-season finale.

The program was able to pick up an 83-57 blowout win over Minnesota during the conference tournament, but was then sent packing following an 83-75 loss to Michigan State, the eventual tourney winner. Overall, Wisconsin has the best winning percentage (.788) of any team in the league as it prepares for the real postseason.

Meanwhile, 15th-seeded American University has arrived in the NCAA Tournament somewhat unexpectedly. The Eagles have a decent enough record overall and placed second in the Patriot League standings with a mark of 13-5, but everyone had Boston University pegged as the predicted champion in the league and the squad to pick up the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the Big Dance.

The Eagles managed to take down Colgate in the quarterfinals of the league tourney by a score of 59-50, and then followed that three days later with a 57-46 thumping of Holy Cross. What came next was truly unexpected, not so much that American defeated the heavily favored Terriers, but did so in such dominating fashion, 55-36, in the title game last week.

The Eagles are making their third all-time appearance in this tournament, but have yet to secure a victory, while Wisconsin sports a record of 25-18 in 19 previous tourneys, winning it all back in 1941.

The winner of this meeting will go up against the survivor of the BYU/Oregon contest in the next round on Saturday.

In just his first year with the Eagles, Mike Brennan made a big enough impact to be named the Patriot League Coach of the Year, guiding a squad that was picked to finish ninth in the preseason voting to a second-place spot behind only newcomer Boston University. Brennan had the luxury of having Tony Wroblicky manning the paint as the center not only placed second on the unit with 12.2 ppg and was tops with 7.3 rpg, he was one of the better passers on the squad (3.0 apg) and logged 1.9 blocked shots per contest as he was named the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year.

A starter in all 30 games in which he appeared, Jesse Reed stepped up his efforts on offense to account for 13.9 ppg, shooting not only 51.2 percent from the floor but also 46.8 percent behind the 3-point line. Darius Gardner and John Schoof check in with 11.5 and 11.4 ppg, respectively, for a program that is generating just 63.9 ppg and instead relying heavily on a defense that has limited the opposition to just 58.6 ppg, stemming from 41.1 percent from the field and 31.3 percent out on the perimeter.

While the Eagles are enjoying positive, early returns with Brennan, the Badgers have the experience of head coach Bo Ryan to follow. Ryan, who notched the 700th win of his career recently, becoming just the 40th coach in NCAA history to reach that plateau, typically has been a defensive-minded leader, but this season he has allowed his players to run the floor and generate offense (73.5 ppg) with great proficiency. One of the many players to benefit from coach Ryan's slight change in philosophy is Frank Kaminsky who earned a spot on the All-Big Team First Team by posting 13.6 ppg as a 52.4 percent shooter from the floor, adding a team-best 6.4 rpg and 57 blocked shots for good measure.

Ben Brust has knocked down his field goals at just 41.1 percent, but he is still putting up 12.9 ppg thanks to a team-high 81 3-pointers over the course of 33 games. Sam Dekker is responsible for another 12.7 ppg and while his efforts out on the perimeter (37-of-114) have been lackluster, his performance on the glass (6.2 rpg) helps to counter those shortcomings. Keeping the offense in constant motion for the Badgers is Traevon Jackson (10.4 ppg) who not only found the time to score himself, but he also dealt out 130 assists for a squad that is averaging a mere 8.1 turnovers per contest.

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