New Orleans - On the east bank of the Mississippi River, Wisconsin fans, band members and cheerleaders gathered Wednesday for a pregame celebration, as a blues trio wailed at a nearby seafood joint.
At an area hotel, the Badgers continued preparations for their Thursday night matchup against Butler in the Sweet 16. It had been a long, fun day for Wisconsin and the four Minnesotans who have played major roles throughout their journey.
Following a pregame press conference, former Minnesota prep stars Jordan Taylor (Benilde-St. Margaret's) and Jon Leuer (Orono) laughed with ESPN.com writer and bestselling author Rick Reilly as he demonstrated an awkward golf swing.
And just before Taylor left the New Orleans Arena floor after a brief practice, former NBA legend Reggie Miller and TV announcer Gus Johnson talked to the state's 2008 Mr. Basketball for a few moments.
If the Badgers win their next two games, they'll travel to Houston for the program's first Final Four since 2000. And they'll earn another trip to a warm city. They played their first two games in Arizona.
For Mike Bruesewitz, a former Henry Sibley star, it's been a surreal experience.
"It's been pretty incredible," he said. "We come in every summer. We get in there when no one else is on campus. And we always talk about 'let's do our work now so we can get paid later.' And right now, I feel like I'm getting paid pretty well."
Just two weeks ago, the Badgers were March Madness afterthoughts. They were destroyed by Ohio State in their final regular season game. And then, they scored just 33 points in a Big Ten tourney loss to Penn State.
But the Badgers commit fewer turnovers than any squad in the country. They have a talented point guard in Taylor. And they're the best free-throw shooting team in America.
A sexy offense, however, is not one of their attributes. National pundits often criticize the Badgers for a style that puts an emphasis on stifling defense and efficient offense but lacks the run-and-gun pace of programs in the Big East and the ACC.
Leuer, however, said his squad doesn't pay attention to critics.
"Obviously, people are entitled to their own opinion and they're going to say whatever they want," Leuer said. "But we know with the group of guys in our locker room and the coaching staff, what we have and what we're capable of doing. We're just looking forward to getting on the court every day and competing."
SWEET 16 PREDICTIONS
WISCONSIN V. BUTLER
The Bulldogs are making their second consecutive Sweet 16 appearance. They have experience on their side. But the Badgers have the kind of offense that will force Butler big man Matt Howard to play on the perimeter and away from his comfort zone. That will be the difference.
Prediction: Wisconsin 61, Butler 59
BYU V. FLORIDA
The Jimmer will score 30-plus, but it won't be enough to hold off Florida's balance and athleticism. Gators big man Vernon Macklin will be too much for BYU to handle inside.
Prediction: Florida 70, BYU 64
OHIO STATE V. KENTUCKY
An experienced Princeton team nearly pulled off a first-round upset against the Wildcats. The latter is facing an experienced squad with high-level talent in its Sweet 16 matchup. Ohio State's versatility will challenge a young Kentucky team.
Prediction: Ohio State 75, Kentucky 65
MARQUETTE V. UNC
This should be a great game. Marquette can run with any team, even a squad with North Carolina's length and talent. But the Tar Heels have too much star power and they're building chemistry at the right time.
Prediction: North Carolina 85, Marquette 80
KANSAS V. RICHMOND
The Jayhawks should win the national title. It's all there. Their issue, however, has always been mental toughness. They shouldn't lose to Richmond. But mistakes might hurt them in future rounds.
Prediction: Kansas 78, Richmond 65
VCU V. FLORIDA STATE
Both teams are coming off blowouts of two squads that were expected to challenge for the national title (Purdue, Notre Dame). They're both confident. But I have to go with VCU in this matchup between a pair of double-digit seeds.
Prediction: VCU 74, Florida State 70
DUKE V. ARIZONA
Kyrie Irving is back and now, the Blue Devils should be favored to win their second consecutive national championship. Arizona's Derrick Williams doesn't have the supporting cast to contend with this Duke team.
Prediction: Duke 72, Arizona 65
SAN DIEGO STATE V. UCONN
Most figured that the Huskies would be too tired to make a run in the NCAA tournament. They had to win five games in five days to secure a Big East tournament title. But they're young and energetic. San Diego State is a good team. But it doesn't have the weapons or speed to beat UConn.
Prediction: UConn 71, SDSU 67