Badgers and Bruesewitz no afterthought

NEW ORLEANS -- There's Jimmer. And the darling, Butler. And Florida back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since winning the second of two titles four years ago.

And then there's Wisconsin.

Oh yeah, the Badgers are here, too.

“Hey, if that’s how people want to look at us, that’s fine with us,’’ Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer said. “We’ve got a good, confident group that is confident that it can win. We’ve got a shot to move on to the Elite Eight and hopefully the Final Four. There’s a lot of good teams here, and I think we could beat anybody, but we could also lose to anybody here.’’

The Badgers are the afterthought program that doesn’t create the buzz or the natural storyline. Yet, outside of Butler’s unbelievable win over Pitt in the final frenzied seconds, the Badgers might have had the most impressive win of the four teams in New Orleans. Wisconsin beat Kansas State 70-65 despite Jacob Pullen’s 38 points.

“I think everyone thinks we’re just boring, run the swing,’’ Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor said. “But this is wide open. It’s going to be a fun weekend to see who comes out on top.’’

The Badgers might seem dull to the outside world, but they’re not without their share of characters, led by sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz.

The redhead with the curly, floppy hair has been the ultimate glue guy for the Badgers.

“He’s been unbelievable all year, especially in these last two games,’’ Taylor said of Bruesewitz. “He hit two of the biggest shots for us. Against Belmont, he hit a 3 to push us from four to seven. And the 3 he hit against Kansas State was huge [it broke a tie with 91 seconds left]. He’s been like the Energizer Bunny for us. He never stops.’’

And he was questionable playing in the event last week after he sprained his knee in the Big Ten tournament semifinal loss to Penn State.

“I came down on it and said, ‘Oh crap.’ It didn’t feel good; something weird happened,’’ Brusewitz said. “But it was just a sprain, and once I could practice full speed by Wednesday [of last week], I knew I’d be OK.’’

Brusewitz finished with eight points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes against Belmont, and then 11 points and six boards in 29 minutes against K-State.

“We didn’t know if we’d have him for sure, but he’s given us so much energy, especially on the offensive rebounds,’’ Leuer said. “We’re glad we’re getting production out of him. It helps us out a lot.’’

If the Badgers are going to beat Butler, you can guarantee Bruesewitz will be a factor. He was a difference-maker with two significant 3s and a key offensive rebound in the Badgers’ win over then-No. 1 Ohio State on Feb. 12.

But no one on the Badgers would trade hairstyles.

“No way; I don’t think that looks good on anybody,’’ Leuer said.

“Never in my life,’’ said Taylor.

Brusewitz laughs it off. The curly locks have been a trademark for him, but they don't overshadow his effort.

The Badgers don’t have to apologize for being here one bit. They’ve earned their spot. And the respect is mutual from Butler.

“I could sit up here and flatter them all day,’’ Butler coach Brad Stevens said at Wednesday’s news conference. “Why wouldn’t you want to play a way where everybody is completely unselfish? Where if they have a good shot, they try to find a better shot for their team, where guys are diving on the floor, where guys take charges, where guys are physically and mentally tough.’’

Stevens went on to praise how the Badgers don’t lose very often and the remarkable run that Bo Ryan is on the past decade.

“They are one of the hardest teams to guard in the country,’’ Stevens said. “They’re one of the hardest teams to score on in the country, and that’s usually a pretty good combination.’’

The praise from Stevens continued with Taylor, comparing him to some of the best point guards Butler has faced this season, such as Kyrie Irving of Duke and Norris Cole of Cleveland State.

The Badgers aren’t a sexy pick to get out of the regional, but they’re more than capable with players who can star, such as Taylor and Leuer, and gritty role players who will make headline plays, in Bruesewitz.