One of the visible differences between Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament and at any randomly selected time during the regular season is how comfortable the role players have looked.
Players other than Jon Leuer, Keaton Nankivil or Jordan Taylor combined for over 40% of the team's scoring in the first two rounds of the tournament. Guys like Tim Jarmusz and Josh Gasser have taken turns hurting Belmont and Kansas State with a renewed willingness to shoot and get to the hole.
Nobody has been more important that forward Mike Bruesewitz, however. The dinged-up forward leads a sophomore class that has settled into the main bench rotation for Bo Ryan in the postseason.
Bruesewitz, the only remaining member of UW's original 2009 recruiting class, came into the tournament averaging 4.2 points and 2.8 rebounds in 19.2 minutes per game. In the past two games, Bruiser is averaging a whopping 28.5 minutes and had raised his production accordingly to 9.5 ppg and 7.5 rpg. His lone Achilles' heel in the NCAAs has been turning the ball over five times (he averaged less than one per game previously).
Despite the lack of hoopla when he signed with the Badgers, Bruesewitz was heralded by Rivals as the top incoming power forward in the Big Ten when he arrived on campus. Fans are seeing the fiery redhead start to realize some of that potential. If nothing else, Bruesewitz is setting the tone for how tough Wisconsin must be to survive in a one-and-done setting.
Jared Berggren and Ryan Evans both redshirted during the 2008-09 season and began their in-game learning experiences alongside Bruesewitz as freshmen last season. The three forwards combine to form the Badger front court of the future.
Though he played sparingly heading into the game with Belmont, averaging 2.2 points and one rebound in 5.5 minutes per game, Berggren hit two huge 3-pointers against the Bruins. Being able to bring another capable 6'10" body off the bench has been a luxury for Wisconsin before, but is proving to be a necessity now. Berggren is playing eight minutes per game in the tournament, averaging 4 ppg and 1 rpg. He may have played even more if it weren't for his five fouls in 16 total minutes.
Finally, Evans is the next in a long line of Badgers who can do no right according to some fans. He certainly has some growing up to do still. Take the Kansas State for example. Evans played only five minutes in part because he missed reverse dunk on alley-oop pass while trailing in a tight game and immediately got benched for it. He played one more minute the rest of the night.
If left unaccounted for, however, Evans can make you pay. Just ask Purdue.
Some of Evans' minutes have gone to Berggren this postseason, but the 6'6" swingman has not let it affect his production. After seeing an increase in playing time toward the end of the Big Ten season, Evans entered the tournament averaging 11.9 minutes per game, scoring 2.9 ppg and pulling down 2.4 rpg. In two tourney matches, Evans is averaging 4 ppg and 2 rpg in just eight minutes per contest.
Perhaps most importantly, neither Evans nor Berggren have committed any turnovers in the tournament.
Continued production from the bench -- the sophomore class in particular -- will be crucial as Wisconsin goes up against an experienced Butler squad in the Sweet 16.