The Wisconsin Badgers and Ole Miss Rebels get an early morning wake-up call on Friday, as they hit the floor at the Sprint Center as part of the West Region's second-round action of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
The fifth-seeded Badgers, who are also ranked 12th in the Associated Press poll this week, are appearing in the annual tournament for the 15th straight year after performing so well in the Big Ten Conference yet again. Under the direction of Bo Ryan, the Big Ten Coach of the Year for the third time in his career, Wisconsin tied Michigan for fourth place in the league standings at 12-6.
The Badgers strengthened their bid for a more favorable postseason seeding by defeating both the Wolverines (68-59) and Indiana (68-56) during the conference tournament, before falling to Ohio State (50-43) in the title tilt last Sunday.
As for the 12th-seeded Rebels, they were like every other program in the SEC this year -- chasing the Florida Gators. Head coach Andy Kennedy had his team off to an impressive 17-2 start, and while there were more than a few slip-ups during the league slate, the team still finished it all off by beating the Gators in the SEC Tournament championship game last weekend, 66-63.
Back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in more than a decade, the crown earned by Ole Miss in the SEC Tournament was its first since 1981 and just the second in program history. Despite owning a record of only 3-6 in this tourney over the years, the Rebels come in with some momentum, having won five straight games.
The Badgers have an all-time record in this tournament of 25-17, and they won one of the very first championships back in 1941 with a 39-34 verdict versus Washington in Kansas City, ironically enough.
The winner of this first-ever meeting will go up against either La Salle or Kansas State in the third round on Sunday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.
Appearing in every game for Ole Miss this season, Marshall Henderson's gambling ways on the hardwood resulted in his 20.1 ppg, which is one of the highest averages of any player still in the postseason. Never one to shy away from shooting the ball, from almost anywhere on the floor for that matter, Henderson was credited with 131 of the team's 231 3-pointers. In fact, Henderson attempted more treys (367) than all but one of his teammates had overall shot attempts (368 by Murphy Holloway). In the case of Holloway, he had good reason for taking as many shots as he did, considering he averaged 14.6 ppg and tended to be near the basket more often than not with his 9.6 rpg. Also having a presence in the paint was Reginald Buckner with 7.4 rpg, to go along with 9.5 rpg an 91 blocked shots, but fouling out seven times did not help his cause.
In the running for the Naismith Award, Jared Berggren has become a big deal for the Badgers this season. The program's all-time leader in blocked shots, Berggren was one of three players to average double-digits as he dropped in 11.1 ppg and was second on the unit with 6.9 rpg while being named Second- Team All-Big 10 and a member of the All-Big Ten Defensive Team as well. Reaching double figures in 11 of the last 13 games, Ben Brust has had a number of highlights this season, en route to his team-best 11.2 ppg, adding 5.2 rpg and 2.3 apg as well. Also on that double-digit scoring list for Wisconsin is Ryan Evans with 10.2 ppg, which is a bit unusual given that the Badgers are putting up only 65.5 ppg. Evans is also first on the glass with 7.4 rpg, although that doesn't explain his mere 2-of-24 showing beyond the arc, and 42.8 percent effort at the free-throw line.