By Rob Schultz and Tom Oates, The Wisconsin State Journal
NEW ORLEANS — As Jordan Taylor closes in on scoring his 1,000th career point — he needs 21 to get there — the kudos for the junior point guard keep coming in from coaches.
Butler Coach Brad Stevens believes Taylor makes the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team a national title contender.
The fourth-seeded Badgers (25-8) are playing eighth-seeded Butler (25-9) in a NCAA tournament Southeast regional semifinal game Thursday night at the New Orleans Arena.
Stevens rattled off the reasons why, starting with, “his ability to get in the paint, his ability to draw two guys.”
He went on to mention his 4-to-1 assist to turnover ratio and his accuracy shooting 3-pointers coming off a ball screen.
“You add all that together, he’s as good a point guard — we played against the best this year, the Kyrie Irvings of the world, and people like that, Norris Cole at Cleveland State, and this guy is right up there with all of them,” Stevens said.
In a perfect world, the Southeast regional of the NCAA tournament would have been played at the massive Louisiana Superdome this week instead of the smaller New Orleans Arena next door. However, renovations at the Superdome precluded the regional from being played there.
That is unusual because NCAA policy is to hold regionals in cities that are hosting Final Fours the following year, and the 2012 Final Four will be held in New Orleans.
Apparently, there will be no trial run for the 2012 Final Four, though there is talk of playing the SEC tournament at the Superdome and using that to judge the building’s readiness.
In the meantime, UW, Butler, Florida and BYU will play in the New Orleans Arena, the home court of the NBA’s Hornets. That’s because the final phase of the Superdome’s renovation project — replacing the lower bowl and turning it into a more football-friendly configuration — is in full swing and the building isn’t usable. The seats in the lower bowl already have been removed.
The Super Bowl is scheduled to be played in the Superdome in January of 2013.
The right place
UW reserve sophomore forward Mike Bruesewitz isn’t doing anything different during the NCAA tournament — that is, getting his hands on more rebounds and loose balls.
“Earlier in the year, if you watched practice, I’d get three or four offensive rebounds, tip some around and get some good stuff going,” Bruesewitz said. “Then, all of a sudden, a game would come around and I’d go to the same spots I’ve been going to my whole life and reading where the ball goes, and all of a sudden it bounces three inches to the left and I couldn’t get a hand on it. That’s how I felt it was going earlier in the year. Some stuff didn’t really go my way. That’s the way things are. But the last couple of games some stuff has come a little bit more my way and I’m trying to take advantage as much as I can.”
One of the keys to the resurgence of Butler after a slow start this season has been an improved defense.
Stevens said it took some time for the Bulldogs to learn how to play without last year’s defensive standouts, Willie Veasley and Gordon Hayward. Both could guard every position.
“This year we’re a lot more traditional,” Stevens said. “We’re a lot more traditional at the four-five, we’re small at the three, and it took some time to become technically good. We’ve had to choose how to guard screening actions different ways because it fits our personnel better. And you don’t just choose that and then all of a sudden it changes overnight. It’s a constant process of work, and our guys continued to work through the games.”
Stevens said some games it didn’t show early on, but the team kept working and it has gotten better.
The last word UW senior forward Keaton Nankivil on what concerns him the most about Butler: “Their experience, I think, goes a long way. Obviously they’re a team that was here in this position last year. You just get the feeling that nothing is going to rattle them so we’re going to have to play a pretty solid game and do whatever we do well in order to win this one.”