Badgers' Friday opponent an NCAA neophyte

March 20, 2013

MADISON, Wis. — What is the intrinsic value of having NCAA tournament experience? Wisconsin's basketball team sure hopes it accounts for something on Friday.

When No. 5 seed Wisconsin (23-11) plays No. 12 seed Ole Miss (26-8) in a round of 64 game at 11:40 a.m. CT in Kansas City, Mo., the difference in tournament backgrounds will be striking. While the Rebels haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2002, the Badgers have never missed a big dance during that time frame.

Past seasons don't necessarily dictate future results when it comes to March Madness, but Wisconsin players are confident their knowledge of what it takes to succeed this time of year will come in quite handy.

"I think experience definitely plays a role," Badgers center Jared Berggren said. "Just like any basketball game. Something about the tournament, just the vibe and the feel of it is something special. You don't really understand until you're a part of it. I think there's something to be said for experience."

The starting lineup at Ole Miss has combined to play zero minutes in the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile, the starting lineup at Wisconsin — Berggren, forward Mike Bruesewitz, forward Ryan Evans, guard Ben Brust and guard Traevon Jackson — has combined to play in 28 NCAA tournament games for a total of 477 minutes.

Bruesewitz has the most game experience, having appeared in eight contests for a total of 158 minutes. He has made 17 of 32 shots and scored 46 points. Evans (eight games, 154 minutes) has made 20 of 42 shots and scored 56 points. Berggren (seven games, 105 minutes) is shooting 16 of 34 from the field with 42 points.

Brust appeared in his three games as a sophomore last season, playing 58 minutes while shooting 8 of 17 from the field and scoring 23 points. Jackson, meanwhile, played a total of two minutes in two games as a freshman last season.

It isn't simply the playing time that would appear to give the Badgers an edge on Friday — it's the team success while they have played. Wisconsin is one of seven teams to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons.

"The biggest thing is you've just got to get out of the first weekend," Bruesewitz said. "You can't look ahead. You can't look past anything. I think that's one reason why we've been successful the last couple years is because we've had guys that don't necessarily know what's going to happen next. Guys like me. I don't know what time we're leaving tomorrow. I don't know what time we have practice tomorrow. Just kind of living one day at a time. …

"That's the way you've got to approach the NCAA tournament. You only get one game. You're guaranteed 40 minutes and that's the most important 40 minutes of this season is this next game on Friday. I don't even know what time the game is to be completely honest."

Ole Miss has appeared in three consecutive NITs, and the Rebels are 3-3 during that span. They did not win an NIT game in either of the last two seasons.

This season, Wisconsin reached its 15th consecutive NCAA tournament, tied for the seventh-longest streak in NCAA history. Only Kansas (24), Duke (18), Michigan State (16) and Gonzaga (15) have an active streak of at least 15 appearances. Since the last time Ole Miss played in the big dance, Wisconsin's record in the tournament is 15-10.

Last season, Wisconsin nearly shocked top-seeded Syracuse in the Sweet 16 before falling 64-63.

"The older guys have obviously set a precedent," Brust said. "I didn't have a lot of experience playing my freshman year, but when I was there I was like, ‘Wow, I want to get back here.' Last year being a part of getting to the Sweet 16 and coming up this much short is something that sticks with you. You definitely want to get to that point, but you can't look too far ahead because we've got a tough first-round matchup with Ole Miss. We're going to get prepared today for that, but we want to go as far as possible."

Evans joins Twitter: Badgers forward Ryan Evans picked an interesting time to create a Twitter account — in the final few weeks of his college basketball career.

Evans, a senior, started a Twitter account on Sunday under the name @RyanEvans_5. His first tweet: "On the twitter scene! Time to get ready for the Tourney #the dance"

Of the 16 players on Wisconsin's roster, Evans is the 15th to join Twitter. Only Badgers forward Evan Anderson doesn't have an account.

In two days, Evans had already reached 2,856 followers.

"We've all kind of been joking with him about it," Berggren said. "He's talked about getting it all season long, and I don't know what finally made him pull the trigger. I think his brother made it for him. He's not too tech savvy to figure that out, I guess. Welcome to Twitter."

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.