Badgers look to live up to 2 seed designation

Of Wisconsin being a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, Frank Kaminsky (right) said, "I think there's a reason we're a 2 seed. People see that we've had a good body of work. I think being a 2 seed, a 2-15 game, we know we've got to take it at (American) from the get-go."

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MILWAUKEE — An old sports adage suggests a team is only as good as its record says. And, if that is indeed the case, then No. 2 seeds collectively are pretty darn good in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, No. 2 seeds are 109-7 all-time against No. 15 seeds — a winning clip of roughly 94 percent. It isn’t quite a sure thing, of course, but it’s awfully close.

So, what’s that mean for a No. 2 seed such as Wisconsin on the eve of its NCAA tournament opener against No. 15 seed American?

"If you lose your first game, it’s going down in the history books as one of the biggest upsets," Badgers center Frank Kaminsky said. "So you don’t want to be that team. You want to play like you’re a 2 seed. You want to go out there and beat the people you’re supposed to beat and play up to your potential."

With a 2 seed comes a certain amount of responsibility to live up to expectations, which can in turn create its fair share of pressure. This is a Wisconsin team that won more games to open a season — 16 — than any Badgers team in program history. This is a Wisconsin team that won eight straight conference games for the first time in 73 years.

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And this is also a Wisconsin team that has earned a No. 2 seed for only the second time in NCAA tournament history. The other Badgers team that did so, in 2007, lost to seventh-seeded UNLV in the second game of the tournament. If ever there was a Bo Ryan-coached team that seemed ready to reach the Final Four, this is it.

Despite all those components, Badgers players say they’re doing their best to stay in the moment and avoid outside distractions about the pressure to escape the opening weekend of the tournament in Milwaukee. 

"We put enough pride in that stuff on ourselves," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "We think we should get out of there. Thursday is a game that we’re looking at that we should win, just in our minds as a competitor. American should be coming in thinking they should win as well. That’s just how it’s going to be.

"We can’t look too far ahead about, ‘Hey, we have to get out of Milwaukee. We have to get out of that first weekend.’ We’ve just got to go out there and play. If we do the things that we’ve been doing this year, we should be able to do that."

Of course, seven other No. 2 seeds likely have said the same thing, only to leave in shock after the first game.

Three times in the past two NCAA tournaments alone, 15 seeds have knocked off 2 seeds. Last year, Florida Gulf Coast edged Georgetown, 78-68, and ultimately reached the Sweet 16. In 2012, Lehigh defeated Duke and Norfolk State beat Missouri.

Those results have helped provide fuel for American players as they try to pull off the unexpected.

"We all kind of talk amongst each other," American center Tony Wroblicky said. "It’s obviously David versus Goliath. But it has been done before. We’ve got to go in with confidence that it can be done. We have to believe that we can."

Added Eagles guard Kyle Kager: "We think anything is possible. It’s called March Madness for a reason. Anything can happen. We’re just going to try to play our game, and hopefully it all works out."

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As it happens, first-year American coach Mike Brennan was involved in one of those stunning 15-2 upsets — as a Georgetown assistant last year. The Hoyas were 13-point favorites against Florida Gulf Coast, which is the same spread Las Vegas oddsmakers give Wisconsin against American. And the result a year ago further illustrated the closing gap in talent level across college basketball.

"There are no bad teams in this tournament," Brennan said. "And I guess there’s still sort of descriptions of high-major and mid-major. But I think those lines are being blurred a lot more."

Many would consider American to be among the so-called low-major college basketball teams. The Eagles have a strength-of-schedule ranked No. 234 and just one game against a top-50 RPI team, while the Badgers’ schedule strength is sixth with seven RPI top-50 wins.

Badgers players hope they can lend credence to those numbers Thursday, when the goal will be to take American and its Princeton offense out of the game early, to squelch any Eagles hope and avoid an historic upset.

"We’ve got to take it to them," Kaminsky said. "I think there’s a reason we’re a 2 seed. People see that we’ve had a good body of work. I think being a 2 seed, a 2-15 game, we know we’ve got to take it at them from the get-go. We’ve got to show our power on offense and not let them get anything easy on defense and just hopefully blow by them."

A look at Wisconsin’s NCAA tournament seeding history under Bo Ryan

YEAR SEED RESULT
2013 5 seed 0-1, lost to Ole Miss in Round of 64
2012 4 seed 2-1, lost to Syracuse in Sweet 16
2011 4 seed 2-1, lost to Butler in Sweet 16
2010 4 seed 1-1, lost to Cornell in Round of 32
2009 5 seed 1-1, lost to Xavier in Round of 32
2008 3 seed 2-1, lost to Davidson in Sweet 16
2007 2 seed 1-1, lost to UNLV in Round of 32
2006 9 seed 0-1, lost to Arizona in Round of 64
2005 6 seed 3-1, lost to North Carolina in Elite Eight
2004 6 seed 1-1, lost to Pittsburgh in Round of 32
2003 5 seed 2-1, lost to Kentucky in Sweet 16
2002 5 seed 1-1, lost to Maryland in Round of 32

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