The top-seeded Wisconsin Badgers’ quest for a national title begins this weekend in Omaha, Neb., where they’ll likely still be without the services of senior guard Traevon Jackson.
The Badgers (31-3 overall) kick things off Friday night at 8:20 p.m. when they take on 16-seed Coastal Carolina (24-9), who punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament by winning the Big South Tournament.
Wisconsin will likely be without Jackson, who, despite being cleared to return to practice, told several reporters before the Badgers’ shootaround in Omaha that he’s unlikely to play in either game. Jackson has missed the last 17 games while recovering from a fractured right foot.
Still, the Badgers will obviously be heavy favorites when they take on Coastal Carolina. Despite the frequency of upsets during March Madness, No. 1 seeds are now 122-0 all-time against No. 16 seeds following Kentucky and Villanova’s wins Thursday.
Even though UW earned a No. 1 seed for the first time in school history, head coach Bo Ryan isn’t approaching his team’s opening game any differently than years past.
“Our guys know we’re up against a very good opponent, just like the other years that we’ve played any NCAA Tournament games,” Ryan said. “It won’t be because we don’t know about them or don’t respect them, that’s for sure.”
The Chanticleers are making their second consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament and fourth in program history. Last season, Coastal Carolina was the 16-seed in the East Region, where it gave top-seeded Virginia quite a scare.
The Chanticleers led the Cavaliers by as much as 10 in the first half and were even tied with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation, but Virginia was able to pull away late to avoid the historic upset.
Four starters from that team are back this season for Coastal Carolina, which comes into Omaha having won seven of its last eight games. Among those returning players is senior guard Josh Cameron, a Racine native who is also a cousin of former UW point guard Jordan Taylor.
“I definitely watched a lot of Wisconsin basketball [growing up]. My cousin was the point guard a couple years ago, Jordan Taylor,” Cameron said. “I know the Wisconsin swing offense pretty well, so it’s definitely helped me growing up in Wisconsin and being familiar with their offense and what they like to do.”
Cameron, who averages 12.9 points per game, is one of four Coastal Carolina players that average in double figures. Senior guard Warren Gillis (13.1), sophomore guard Elijah Wilson (11.1) and redshirt sophomore guard Shivaughn Wiggins (10.2) are the team’s other top scorers.
The Chanticleers also clean up well on the glass, even though their tallest player only stands at 6-foot-10. Coastal Carolina ranks fifth in the country in rebounding, averaging a total of 39.8 per game.
Though the Chanticleers know they have to try and stop the stellar Wisconsin starting rotation of Frank Kaminsky, Nigel Hayes, Sam Dekker, Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser, they may have to deal with another Badger coming off the bench.
Redshirt senior forward Duje Dukan has come alive as of late, as he’s once again found his shooting stroke from 3-point range. He’s gone 8-for-18 from beyond the arc over the last five games, including going 6-for-12 during the Big Ten Tournament, after shooting just 1-for-15 in the 11 games prior.
If he can continue to shoot well, it will create another potential matchup problem in what is already a daunting task for Coastal Carolina head coach Cliff Ellis, who is in his 37th season as a head coach at the Division I level.
Ryan and Ellis have combined to win 1,504 total games during their illustrious coaching careers, and Ellis had high praise for his Wisconsin counterpart.
“I have tremendous respect for him,” Ellis said. “Wisconsin is very, very fortunate to have a guy like him. He’s just a great coach, a great teacher. He cares about his kids, and what a job he’s done.”