(photo courtesy Christian Peterson, Getty Images)
Going into the NCAA Tournament the chances of Mike Bruesewitz's name coming up as an important key to victory were probably less than the chances of you picking Norfolk State to beat Missouri, but guess what? Both happened last weekend and with the style of play from the Orange his continued hot hand will be important once again as Wisconsin prepares for their Sweet 16 matchup on Thursday against No. 1 seeded Syracuse in Boston, MA.
Coming into the NCAA Tournament Bruesewitz hadn't hit a three pointer since what seemed like forever (Feb. 9th to be exact), but he finally broke through hitting two three pointers and totalling 8 points in the Montana victory. Those 8 points were the most since the Feb. 4th victory over Ohio State. But he wasn't quite done showing us what he's capable of.
He continued the hot touch from the field in Saturday's hard fought victory over Vanderbilt, going off for 10 points (joining 4 other Badgers in double figures). Not only that but he went 2-for-3 from deep, marking the first time since the Michigan and Purdue games where he hit multiple three's (he was 2-for-2 and 4-for-4 respectively in those games).
The question is is he the key to a Wisconsin victory on Thursday night?
One thing we do know is that Wisconsin won't see Syracuse big man Fab Melo in the lineup both in person and on tape. "I've only looked at their recent games," said Wisconsin Head Coach Bo Ryan when asked about the difference with Melo out of their lineup. "You get into the tournament, nobody asks when Brian Butch went out with an injury. You can't do things about people who aren't there. We're just preparing for who's there."
That may be a huge help for the frontcourt duo of Bruesewitz and Jared Berggren as his length only added to what is already a long and athletic zone defensive team and could've caused the big men trouble trying to shoot outside had he been eligible for the tournament.
We also know that his teammates are a bit more happy than the coach, at least publicly, to see what Bruesewitz is doing so far in this tournament. "I just said he was due. I've already answered those questions," Ryan said. "It's that baseball player that starts to get hits again, and the average improves. I don't like to beat it to death."
"I think it's good just overall as a team because, when he's shooting the ball well, it opens up a lot of other things for everyone." said teammate Josh Gasser. "It's going to be key for him to get open and knock those shots down against Syracuse."
Fellow teammate and Senior Jordan Taylor added, "Yeah, it was cool. But you know, I think every single one of us, coming into [the] tournament, knew we could rely on Mike. I heard the stat after the game that he hadn't hit a three since Feb. 9, and I don't think anybody on our team that because Mike's just the kind of guy who is going to come out and play hard, and like you said, not really show that's he's slumping like that."
Busting out of the slump from deep is great and all, but can it be a sustained thing for him is the biggest question?
An interesting answer may just be found in last year's NCAA tournament where Bruesewitz was mired in a similar offensive funk, one that he broke out of in the opening round and was actually a key factor in their Sweet 16 run last year.
In Wisconsin's opening victory over Belmont he put in 8 points and grabbed 9 rebounds and in the round of 32 win over Kansas State Bruesewitz put up 11 points and 6 rebounds. Very similar numbers to this year and an indication that he can handle an increased role offensively to go with his defensive prowess. In fact he hit a very late three pointer that put Wisconsin up for good in the 70-65 win over the Wildcats.
So, how did he fare in the that Sweet 16 matchup with the Bulldogs? Bruesewitz scored 7 points and had 4 rebounds, but also went 0-4 from deep in the Badgers loss to Butler.
But this is a new year, a different team and a player that has never gotten too high or too low in victory or defeat and his steady hand will be needed against Syracuse.
The Sweet 16 isn't for the faint of heart as all these teams are here for a reason. Either their a great team or they've become incredibly hot as of late. With the increased production from Mike Bruesewitz the Badgers have found a combination of both that just may carry them to a victory over the No. 1 seed Orange of Syracuse this Thursday.