TUCSON, Ariz. -- The Southeast Regional games here pits teams from major conferences against a pair of so-called "mid-majors" that each won 30 games. Should the higher-seeded power conference teams be worried? Probably.
The setup: Wisconsin had won eight of nine before losing its final two games, including a plodding 36-33 defeat to Penn State. Still, the Badgers MO is they don't beat themselves. Belmont, which has won 12 in a row, is a deep team -- nine players see at least 14 minutes per game -- that forces a lot of turnovers, shoots well from 3-point range and takes care of the ball.
Who to watch: The Badgers feature an outstanding inside-outside combination in forward Jon Leuer and in point guard Jordan Taylor. Both earned All-Big Ten honors and average more than 18 points per game. Belmont is all about balance. Four players average between 7.7 and 12.4 points per game. The guy with 12.4 ppg, sophomore guard Ian Clark, however, is likely the one to take the lead Thursday.
Why to watch: These are two smart, disciplined teams, and that would tend to favor the more talented Badgers if not for the final two games of the season: a blowout loss to Ohio State and a terrible performance against Penn State. Also, Belmont has a lot of the qualities of a team that notches an upset in the tournament. The Bruins up-tempo, high-scoring offense could challenge the Badgers.
What they're saying: "The key is to not let them get good looks. Wisconsin lost their last two games, so they're going to come in prepared. Their loss to Penn State is a good example of how to beat them. We have to keep them to a low field goal percentage and confuse their defense," said Belmont guard Drew Hanlon.
"We know they're a good team. I've been around long enough to know how good some teams are in spite of what the public or other people might understand about teams or names or anything else. So, being a grizzled veteran, I'm well-aware of Belmont," said Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan.
Of note: Belmont shot 319 more 3-pointers than its opponents this season. ... The Badgers have been to the NCAA tournament in each of coach Bo Ryan's 10 seasons in Madison. Just five other coaches can say that: Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, Michigan State's Tom Izzo, Texas' Rick Barnes and Gonzaga's Mark Few. ... Rick Byrd has been Belmont's coach for 25 seasons and he ranks 12th among active Division I head coaches with 610 career wins. ... Leuer has reached double-figures in scoring in 38 consecutive games. ... Belmont has reached the tournament four times since 2006 but this is its first Big Dance since 2008. ... The Badgers are 8-1 under Ryan in first-round games. ... Byrd is close friends with country singer Vince Gill and his wife, Amy Grant.
The setup: Kansas State was one of the nation's most disappointing teams -- it started 2-5 in the Big 12 -- before it won eight of its final nine games and earned a No. 5 seed. Utah State dominated the WAC and finished 30-3 and felt it deserved a higher seed than 12. Still, the Aggies have been impressive in the regular season before only to flame out in the tournament -- see five consecutive first-round defeats.
Who to watch: Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen averaged 27 points per game over the final six regular-season games. He does it all and is one of the elite players in the region. The Aggies are led by WAC player of the year Tai Wesley, who leads the Aggies with 14.7 ppg and 8.0 rebounds.
Why to watch: The Aggies didn't play a terribly ambitious nonconference schedule and they haven't won a tournament game since 2001, but this is a veteran team -- four senior starters -- that has been here before. Further, they are disciplined and smart and play good defense. Kansas State, despite the turnaround, is still a bit flighty. It doesn't shoot terribly well and hits only 64.4 percent of its free throws. Was the loss to Colorado in the Big 12 tournament another wake-up call? Or a regression?
What they're saying: "Early in the year, I might have questioned the leadership on our basketball team, but I'm telling you, I couldn't be prouder of the leadership that we've got right now," said Kansas State coach Frank Martin.
"We've been around long enough to know that K-State is just a bunch of guys. We hear a lot of things about the Big 12, the Big Ten and the western conferences. We get it in our heads that they're not a normal basketball team. But in the end they're just a bunch of guys playing basketball just like us. We're going to come out and play hard. I like our chances," said Utah State junior forward Brady Jardine.
Of note: Utah State has been ranked in the top-25 for nine straight weeks, its longest streak being ranked since 1970-71. ... Kansas State is 10-4 in first-round games. ... The Aggies are one of just three teams that have won at least 23 games in each of the past 11 years (Gonzaga and Kansas are the other two). They've averaged 25.6 wins over the past 12 years. ... Pullen is the Wildcats first two-team All-Big 12 first-team selection. ... Wesley ranks 10th in the nation in field goal percentage (59.5 percent). ... Utah State's No. 12 seed isn't far off from its NCAA RPI (15th).