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March 17, 2011As Keaton Nankivil was walking off the Conseco Fieldhouse floor following a disastrous 36-33 loss to Penn State in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten tournament, he couldn't help but think of all the frustrations circling through his head.
With six seniors, including three that see regular minutes, a game like that should have never happened.
"It was just the context of the game," Nankivil said earlier this week. "It really starts to set in for me that it's my senior year. Just walking off the court feeling like that it was just a frustrating feeling. I think that we're a better team than we showed. We talked as a team and some coaches about where we needed to improve."
On the surface one would look at the game against Penn State and pick out a bevy of different things that went wrong. The lack of any consistent bench production or any offensive rhythm, the stagnant state to start the game and general lack of enthusiasm throughout immediately soars to the forefront.
"I feel like there were points in the game where we were just kind of stagnant and weren't moving as well," senior Tim Jarmusz said. "Whatever it was we weren't shooting as well as we hoped. We have to find that."
UW will have a chance later today when they take to the court against No. 13 seed Belmont in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins are a trendy pick to upset the Badgers because they are the prototypical team that usually finds success against UW squads.
They shoot the ball, the push the tempo, they force turnovers and they feature a lineup of 11 or 12 players that receive plenty of minutes. That depth, especially against a Wisconsin team that really only goes about seven or eight deep, will likely be an important trend to follow throughout the game.
"They all gel together really well and they look like they play off each other really well," Nankivil said. "They have a nice mix of underclassmen and upperclassmen. Sometimes you see that leading to the consistency. They just seem to have a good feel for the game as a team."
Belmont averages around 80 points per game and forces about 19 turnovers per game. Their style is essentially the exact opposite of Wisconsin's. It's a high possession team against low possession squad and fast paced against low paced. Something has to give.
"We know they score a lot," freshman guard Josh Gasser said. "They pressure a lot and they rotate a lot of guys in. The players will be fresh all the time so they'll be bringing it hard. They're really balanced so it's hard to focus on one guy or one position. They have good post guys and they can shoot threes. If we can take that away it will definitely make it easier on us.
"We know they'll be flying around out there so we've got to be ready."
For Wisconsin, losers of two straight ugly games, the time is now or never to correct any mistakes. If not, it will be another early exit from tournament play. Only a loss today would be the end for six seniors and the end of a season for the rest.
There is no tomorrow.
"I think we have all the tools in place to make it to a final four," Jarmusz said. "There's no reason why we can't do that. We've just got to play like we know we can and go out there and have some fun."
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