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On, to Wisconsin!: Bemidji State men's basketball opens season with Wisconsin Badgers and want the win

Jimmy Johnson (15) and the Bemidji State men's basketball team faces the Wisconsin Badgers tonight in Madison. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

Matt Bowen's Bemidji State men's basketball team open the new season Wednesday night in Madison against Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers.

That's a lot of letter Bs.

How about three more: The Beavers want to beat the Badgers.

Bemidji State will play Big 10 power Wisconsin at the Kohl Center at 7 p.m. and Bowen insists his team is not just content with an opportunity to play on a big stage.

"What I want to see is an execution of the things we've worked on in practice and a progression of a group of kids who have continued to get better and hopefully that will put us in a competitive situation Wednesday night," Bowen said. "We have a lot of players returning and they've played on a big stage before and it's time for them to act and produce like juniors and seniors. We want to take that next step now."

Bowen's expectations are elevated for his team in the exhibition game with Wisconsin, which played in the national tournament last season as a No. 12 seed and beat No. 5 Florida State in the first round.

This season marks the start of Bowen's fourth year as Bemidji State's head coach.

Since taking over, Bowen has worked to rebuild the program to a competitive level by recruiting Minnesota-based players.

Bemidji State's record is 19-63 in the Bowen era, but there has been progress in each season as new players were brought in to fit his playing philosophy.

The Beavers won five games in Bowen's first season and six in the second season. BSU finished 8-19 last season.

BSU went from commonplace blowout losses those first few seasons to competitive games and tough single-digit losses last season.

Bowen wants to see Bemidji State take the next step this season.

"We want to start turning the corner this year from a competitive team to a winning team," Bowen said. "We have the vast majority of our team back. For a team to go from God awful to competitive is a huge step and to turn from a competitive team to a winning team is still a substantial gap."

In playing a Big 10 basketball team, the Bemidji State players know what they will be going up against and expect a physical game.

"They have some guys with size who can rebound, they have depth in the post and we're really going to need to have an inside presence to be competitive in this game" Bemidji State senior guard Seth Haake said.

The Badgers lost leading scorer Marcus Landry and leading rebounder Joe Krabbenhoft, so the game for Wisconsin is a chance to try out new formations and get a first look at how to replace that inside presence.

"Bo Ryan has done an unbelievable job turning Wisconsin into a power program in this country," Bowen said. "Unlike years past where we've played Minnesota and Indiana in more of their lower points in program history, it's not quite that way with Wisconsin. It may be a rebuilding year for them, but they are still a top level Big 10 team."