First Day Of Tournament Good/Bad For Wisconsin — But Mostly Good

The good news for Badger fans is that Wisconsin is moving on in the NCAA tournament, beating Cal State Fullerton Thursday night 71-56. The other good news is Wisconsin won how they are going to have to win in the NCAA tournament, with defense: The Badgers held the sixth-ranked offensive team in the nation to just 56 points; the Titans’ lowest point total of the season. The other good news? The Badgers won with a balanced attack, with six players scoring at least eight points, highlighted by Joe Krabbenhoft matching his season high with 13 points. You want more good news? Thanks to Kansas State’s upset of USC Thursday, the Badgers now take on the 11th-seeded Wildcats instead of the 6th-seeded Trojans on Saturday.

The bad news for Badger fans is that the win was by no means decisive, with the Badgers up only two at halftime and only eight with about 3:30 to play. Not as scary as last year’s game against the Islanders of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, but the competitiveness of the game should stop the talk that the Badgers were robbed by not being granted a 2 seed. The other bad news is that the Badgers let Cal State Fullerton’s Josh Akognon go off, allowing the guard to rack up 31 points on 11-for-23 shooting, including going 5-for-12 from beyond (sometimes way beyond) the three-point line. You’d have thought that Bo Ryan’s scheme would have tended more toward the “let the other guys beat us” line of thinking, but the Badgers continually let Akognon get open and he continually made them pay.

The other bad news is that drawing Kansas State instead of USC might not be such a great thing. At least if you go by yesterday’s game between the two. The showdown between freshman phenoms Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo was supposed to come down to which one had the better supporting cast — and USC was thought to be heavily favored in that department. But not only did Beasley far outplay Mayo (outscoring him, 23-20, and out rebounding him, 11-2, despite playing significantly less minutes due to early foul trouble), but Beasley’s teammates stepped up far more than Mayo’s did, with three others scoring in double digits, including forward Bill Walker with 22. So Ryan’s squad has to be prepared to guard more than just Beasley. Add to that the fact that Kansas State should have the home court advantage — Omaha is just a three-hour drive from Manhattan, Kansas — and suddenly the Wildcats look like a very scary draw for the Badgers.

But I still say the Badgers defense finds a way to shut down the Wildcats — Kansas State is prone to turnovers — enough to win. Call it a 65-60 win for Bucky and a trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Thursday Notes:
Best Game of the Day — Marquette 74, Kentucky 66. Two basketball powerhouses in what would in other years be a quality late-round game. (In fact it was back in 2003, when the Dwyane Wade-led Golden Eagles beat the Wildcats in the regional finals).
Worst Game of the Day — UCLA 70, Mississippi Valley St 29. Thanks to the Delta Devils for erasing the previous NCAA tournament mark of futility for scoring, set in 1999 by the Wisconsin Badgers (they scored 32 against Southwest Missouri State). Does this mean that UCLA is that good (hope not, I picked them to lose in the final game), or were the Delta Devils just simply the worst team ever to score a tournament bid?
Best Ending — Has to be Gerald Henderson’s coast-to-coast drive to the bucket that saved Duke’s butt in their one-point victory against 15-seeded Belmont. But given how close the Bruins came, suddenly everyone whose bracket has Duke advancing past Saturday’s game against West Virginia is very nervous.
The Game Doesn’t End After Twenty Minutes Award Goes To — Winthrop for scoring 11 second-half points against Tony Bennett’s Washington State Cougars.
The Game Does Actually Begin With The Tip Award Goes To — Kent State for scoring 10 points in the first half against UNLV. Remarkably, they scored 48 points in the second half. Too bad for them that they weren’t matched up with Missississpi Valley State.
Day One MVP — CSU Fullerton’s Akognon. Single-handedly put fear into the hearts of Badger Nation.
Day One Least Valuable Player — People picking Temple over Michigan State pointed to Dionte Christmas, the Owls’ leading scorer, as the reason. Christmas was a little low on merry, though, only scoring three points as Michigan State rolled.
Respect This — The Big Ten went 3-0 on the day, albeit with three teams having the advantage of owning the higher seed. If Indiana can beat Arkansas Friday, the Big Ten will be perfect — at least until Indiana has to play UNC and the Spartans have to play Big East tourney champ Pittsburgh.
Best Saturday Game — Besides the Badger game, gotta be the nightcap between Pittsburgh and Michigan State. Pittsburgh’s playing great, but look for MSU’s Drew Neitzel to come back strong from his disappointing first-round game.

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