Senior Guards Critical in Tournament Time

(Brad Fedie/10)

When it comes to winning in the NCAA Tournament, people look at trends, offense and defense, experience and personnel, especially who is running the show at point guard. With fourth-seed Wisconsin having two senior guards in its backcourt, the Badgers look to be a tough out come Friday.

MADISON - If one needs a diagram on what it takes to win in the NCAA Tournament, Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard would be one of the top consultants to seek out.

In six years as an assistant under Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan at UW-Platteville, the Pioneers compiled a 161-13 (.925) record, appeared in six consecutive NCAA Tournaments and won three NCAA Division III titles.

Now in his ninth season at Wisconsin, Gard is about to coach in his ninth straight NCAA Tournament and try to advance the Badgers to their first Final Four since 2000. Wisconsin has been close before, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2003 and 2007 as well as the Elite Eight in 2005, but when Gard travels with Ryan to the Final Four, it's usually to watch, never to coach.

"That would be nice if we could go there and actually had some work to do," Gard laughed.

After putting together the scouting report for the first round match-up, Gard hopes that he still has at least three weeks of work still ahead of him and that fourth-seed Wisconsin (23-8) can get past No.13 seed Wofford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Jacksonville on Friday afternoon.

There's no direct science, according to Gard, about what a team has to do in order to advance. He's seen teams play poorly and still advance and he's seen teams play very well and get knocked off, but there are common threads.

The obvious, he says, is making shots every game, hitting timely shots, taking care of the basketball and avoiding prolonged slumps. But the big thing when it comes to a one-and-done tournament is to stay true to the team and what has gotten them to this point.

"The things that make you a good team, like when you are clicking and things are going well," Gard said. "When teams get away from those things or the good habits they have created over the year, teams get bumped off. The thing about this time of year is that there is so much parody that any little slippage in any of those areas will send you home early.

"Remember the movie ‘Any Given Sunday?' They can make a movie called ‘Any Given Thursday or Friday; because anything can happen."

With the margin for error becoming so slim in the month of March, Wisconsin has been able to give itself a few extra inches with senior guards Jason Bohannon and Trevon Hughes running the show. One win shy of tying the 2008 class for most wins in a career, Bohannon and Hughes have both eclipsed 1,000 points for their careers, rank in the top 10 in UW points scored in an NCAA Tournament and have been critical in certain areas to put the Badgers into their current position.

A consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection, Hughes worked feverishly on his defense with great success, increasing his steals and blocks numbers from a season ago and was named to the conference's All-Defensive team.

Bohannon – a third-team selection – was the same as Hughes, registering career highs in steals (28), blocks (14) and assists (69) while leading the Badgers with 36.6 minutes played per game.

"Joe (Krabbenhoft) and Marcus (Landry) were great leaders last year," sophomore Jordan Taylor said. "We got two more and I think Trevon and Jason from the guard spot, it always helps having two seniors at the guard spot."

But having good guards with that have tournament or big-game experience doesn't guarantee a win every time. Against Illinois in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, Wisconsin's two senior guards started a combined 0-of-18 from the floor and finished 5-of-26, a main reason UW was quickly exited from the quarterfinals.

Even though the shots weren't falling, the duo still took care of the basketball, a reason UW went from no votes in the AP poll to begin the season to as high as No.11. With only two turnovers from the seniors and five as a team, Wisconsin finished the regular season leading the nation with only 8.9 turnovers a game.

Since getting Jon Leuer back in the lineup, Leuer has been averaging 13.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and two blocks a game. Without the guards being able to control the clock and get him the ball inside, the talent level would be moot.

"What they hopefully understand at this point in their careers is how valuable every possession is," Gard said. "These games in these environments usually come down to the last few possessions. The value that is put on each position and the more people you have on your roster, you feel pretty good in the last five, 10 minutes. Anytime you have good guards, you always have a chance to be good."

Gard doesn't have time to fill out an office bracket for kicks, but admits that this year might be one of the most challenging to predict. Looking through games featuring No.2, No.3 and No.4 seeds, Gard, who has seen many of these teams play, is candid about the amount of legitimate lower-seed teams that are tough, physical and don't hurt themselves too often.

"Watching some of these teams on film that if you weren't sharp or on your game, you're going to get whacked," Gard said. "It doesn't matter if it's Wisconsin playing Wofford or Purdue playing Siena, it could happen. I watched Wofford earlier in the year when they played Michigan State, because they had played the Spartans so well. Wofford was a team that I thought was pretty good and a team to watch in March. Sure enough, here they are and we have a chance because of our seniors.

"They knew what was going to take place on the court and that's where it was going to be decided. Without Jason and Trevon's leadership this year, we wouldn't be playing still."

Because of them, the Badgers have a chance to make Gard work well into April.

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