OMAHA, Neb. -- In a season full of firsts, Wisconsin's matchup in the round of 32 is not among them. Just one year after outlasting No. 7 seed Oregon during a thrilling third-round game in Milwaukee, the Badgers (32-3) will once again have to defeat the Ducks (26-9) to reach a second straight Sweet 16.
Although the Oregon program will be familiar to a Wisconsin team that is virtually unchanged from last season, the players wearing the Ducks' uniform have changed quite a bit in the last 52 weeks. Oregon returns just two players who logged playing time in last year's game, although one of those is Pac-12 Player of the Year Joseph Young, who scored 29 points in the matchup last year against Wisconsin.
"They have proven scorers besides Young and that makes them tough," UW head coach Bo Ryan said Saturday. "If you only have one or two guys that are scoring, that's one thing. But they have a lot of guys that can fill it up; and they had a lot of guys last year that could fill it up."
Still, Wisconsin will make it a point of emphasis to keep Young from getting into the rhythm he found last year, something Oklahoma State failed to do during a stretch at the end of Friday night's first-half where Young scored 15 straight Oregon points to turn an eight-point deficit into a four-point halftime lead.
"I'll definitely be on [Young] a lot but with the way we play defense, there will be multiple guys on him at different times," Wisconsin senior guard Josh Gasser said. "With the way we play, it's a full team effort."
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After cruising to a solid second-round victory over Coastal Carolina, Wisconsin will be on alert as a hungry Oregon team which narrowly beat Oklahoma State will try to lay the upset on the top-seeded Badgers.
"It's going to have to be a team effort on defense," senior forward Duje Dukan added. "One guy isn't going to be able to stop him. He's the Pac-12 Player of the Year for a reason, so its definitely going to be a joint effort."
While Wisconsin had its way offensively in its NCAA tournament opener, the Badgers struggled on the defensive end at times to contain a similarly athletic Coastal Carolina team. But against teams that thrive on a fast-paced attack, much of the effort has to be made on the offensive end in making sure teams are limited in the opportunities they have to get out in transition.
"We have to take good shots and not turn the ball over," UW senior Frank Kaminsky said. "A bad shot can be the first pass in transition and a turnover is obviously making you scramble back on defense. This team will bury you if you do that."
While Oregon proved it could score the basketball, the Ducks turned the ball over 12 times and gave up nine offensive rebounds to Oklahoma State, resulting in 10 second-chance points for the Cowboys. The often chaotic effort from both teams did little to prove Oregon can compete against a Wisconsin offensive attack that is on pace to be one of the most efficient in NCAA history.
"Wisconsin is probably the best offensive team that we have seen this year," Oregon head coach Dana Altman said. "So we've got our work cut out for us."
As Oklahoma State made very clear, Oregon has frequently found itself vulnerable on the offensive glass and Wisconsin will certainly look to exploit this weakness. In Friday night's win over Coastal Carolina, the Badgers collected 12 offensive rebounds, resulting for 14 second-chance points while chilling several potential Chanticleer runs before they ever really had a chance to materialize.
"They do a great job with their front line getting to the offensive glass," Altman said of the Badgers. "Teams that have done that this year have given us problems, so it's a big challenge for us."
While Oregon does have a bit more size than Coastal Carolina, Wisconsin will again have an advantage underneath and its ability to capitalize on that advantage will go a long way toward deciding whether the Badgers can return to a fourth Sweet 16 in five years.
"Having a [size] advantage looks good on paper, but its not always easy to go out there and do," Kaminsky said. "We know we beat up Coastal Carolina inside last night and were able to get threes out of opening up the middle of the paint. We know that's going to be something we have to try to do and its not going to be easy, but it's going to be a point of emphasis."
Though the storyline of a UW team hoping to slow down the pace against a quicker, more athletic team doesn't fit as well with this year's roster, there is still a definite contrast in the type of game each team would like to see on Sunday night. But unlike in year's past, Wisconsin has the athleticism to play an up-tempo game, leaving the battle for pace very much in the Badgers' hands.
"We have guys that cause matchup problems. We have five guys on the floor that can shoot," junior forward Sam Dekker said. "Any time we can open up the court, it makes us tough to defend."
Having nearly been bounced in Milwaukee by Oregon last year, the Badgers know they will not be able to coast into the Sweet 16. If Wisconsin is going to keep alive its hopes of returning to the Final Four for a second consecutive year, a "B" level performance is not going to be enough.
"We were fighting to get back into that game after giving them a pretty big lead," Kaminsky said. "So we understand that we have to come out and play our best basketball if we want to beat them."