Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Toughness Rules in Local NCAA Matchups

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Toughness Rules in Local NCAA Matchups

Article excerpt

The Wisconsin men's basketball team didn't reinvent itself this season as much as it rediscovered its roots.

Last year, the court was the Badgers' canvas. With a veteran lineup stocked with NBA talent, Bo Ryan's team dribbled, passed and shot its way to the national championship game with the country's best offense. The Badgers, winners of 36 games before falling to Duke in the title game, produced Division I's highest single-season rating for adjusted offensive efficiency (127.9) since Ken Pomeroy began tracking the statistic in 2002. Wisconsin ranked among the nation's top 10 offenses for two-point field goal shooting, turnover rate, block rate and steal rate. As usual the Badgers played the nation's second-slowest pace (21.8 seconds for an average possession), but the formula was clear: Win with breathtakingly efficient offense.

This year, without a single senior, without Ryan and without first-round NBA picks Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker, Wisconsin had no choice but to become Wisconsin.

"We tried to get back to what our brand has always been about here," said Greg Gard, who took over as UW's interim coach when Ryan stepped down Dec. 15 and was promoted to full-time head coach last week. "It starts on the defensive end. We've developed a toughness on that end."

This year, with eight freshmen and few established contributors outside All-Big Ten forward Nigel Hayes, Gard had to reintroduce the Badgers to their past. Wisconsin, 9-9 on Jan. 12, went 11-1 over the next seven weeks. The Badgers recommitted to defense, rebounding and valuing every possession on the offensive end like their scholarships depended on it.

"That's always been our M.O. here," Gard said. "Defensively be very sound. Offensively take care of the ball. Don't beat yourselves."

It's a familiar identity for teams coming to Scottrade Center for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament starting Friday morning, including Gard's Badgers. Four first-round matchups from the Midwest and East Regionals feature teams with reputations for rugged play, no frills and fewer apologies. You'll catch more elbows to the noggin than you will one-and-done NBA prospects on the Scottrade floor. Any One Shining Moments captured the next three days might include a few shiners collected under the hoop.

Wisconsin, the East's No. 7 seed, is back to stifling opponents with defense, sporting its best defensive efficiency rating (No. 24) since the Badgers led the country in 2012-13.

Pittsburgh, the Badgers' opponent Friday (5:50 p. …

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