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Wisconsin On for the Sweet Sixteen

Tablet’s team heads to Big Easy for shot at Butler, Elite Eight

Marc Tracy
March 21, 2011
Leuer (L) and Taylor (R) celebrate victory.(Harry How/Getty Images)
Leuer (L) and Taylor (R) celebrate victory.(Harry How/Getty Images)

After easily handling 13-seed Belmont on Thursday, the Wisconsin Badgers—Tablet Magazine’s official team—defeated Kansas State, a really good team that should have been higher than a five-seed, 70-65, to advance to the program’s first Sweet Sixteen since 2008. Dramatically, one possession after fouling K St. star guard Jacob Pullen, Jordan Taylor had a crucial block on Pullen’s chance to tie, sealing the game. The team will face eight-seed Butler, last year’s overall runner-up, who knocked off top-seeded Pittsburgh. Point guard Taylor and forward Jon Leuer have emerged in recent weeks as elite talents, one of the best small man-big man tandems in the game. Not to jinx it, but Wisconsin’s path to the Final Four could be a whole lot worse: It is, quite simply, a superior team to Butler, and at least as good as Florida and Brigham Young, the two teams that will compete to play the Wisconsin-Butler winner.

Wisconsin will need to methodically grind Butler down with its three-pointers, minimal turnovers, and stingy defense (Taylor must shoot better from the three-point arc than he did against Kansas St., and Leuer must maintain his stellar rebounding, particularly on the offensive end). Certainly it can’t be a bad thing that Butler’s mascot, an actual living bulldog, will not be permitted at the game in New Orleans. Set your calendars: It’s the late game, starting a little before 10 pm, on Thursday night.

As for the Tennessee Volunteers, our official team last year, right before the game a top Tennessee official essentially cut Coach Bruce Pearl’s legs out from under him, going public, after months of radio silence, with the university’s uncertainty as to whether he’ll be back next year. Consequently, Pearl’s team played like … well, like a group of kids who have just been told their beloved coach may be fired, going down hard to Michigan, 75-45. A group of fans greeted Pearl on his return in his support. But certainly his job prospects weren’t helped by that opening round exit.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.