Think Wisconsin is afraid of that big No. 1 in front of Arizona's name? Think again.
Saturday night's Elite Eight showdown with the one-seeded Arizona Wildcats shouldn't be terribly intimidating for the Badgers. It will be the third time this season Wisconsin's gone up against an NCAA tournament one-seed. The first two matchups during the non-conference portion of the season, against Florida in Madison and at Virginia, both ended in Wisconsin wins.
Saturday, with a trip to the Final Four on the line, the Badgers look to go 3-0.
Obviously, the late rounds of the NCAA tournament are different than getting-your-feet-wet games in November and December. But if Wisconsin's proven one thing — be it against Florida and Virginia or the Big Ten's finest such as Michigan and Michigan State — it's that it can beat the country's best teams.
"You know, that's why I think we're a pretty good team," Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said during a Friday press conference. "You don't really know where to start. We've got bigs who can score, we've got perimeter guys that can score, and we've always been known as a pretty good defensive team, so I think that's what's made us dangerous thus far and that's what makes us still playing today, which is always good. We're very versatile. We move the ball. We're unselfish, so I guess that's kind of the makeup of our team."
That's not to say Arizona won't be a test. The Wildcats, obviously, earned that No. 1 seed with an incredible season that saw them sit at the top or right near the top of the top-25 rankings most of the way. After starting 21-0, they only lost four times all year, including a loss to an Oregon team the Badgers disposed of in the Round of 32. Arizona freshman forward Aaron Gordon is expected to be a top NBA draft pick. How would you describe Arizona? Just ask the Badgers:
"Athletic," Frank Kaminsky said.
"They're tough," Traevon Jackson said.
"Solid," Gasser said.
"Extremely talented," Sam Dekker said.
"Good team," Ben Brust said.
Dekker elaborated when talking about Gordon.
"Well, he's a very good player," he said. "Obviously, you've got to respect that. One of the top players in the nation at his position. And you've got to realize that and you've got to respect it and play to his strengths and his weaknesses. You know, he's a great athlete, so you've got to be ready for a lot of things that he's going to throw at you, and just try to stay solid and take some things away from him. As a competitor, you want to play against the best players. So I take this as a challenge, and I'm excited for it."
Playing against the best. That same mentality holds true when you zoom out of the Dekker-Gordon matchup and look at this game as a whole. Arizona is a team that's been either the best or one of the best all year. Wisconsin, though it spent time ranked in the top five, too, and is a two-seed in this tournament, wasn't as equally lauded from start to finish this season. Not there's much left for the Badgers to prove, but if they want to take Bo Ryan to his first Final Four, if they want to reach the college basketball mountaintop, they'll have to get by the Wildcats to do it.
Beating top teams hasn't been an issue so far this season. Now it's time to see if things can stay that way.