Projections have Badgers a No. 2 seed
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
MADISON--As Wisconsin continues to rise in both top-25 men's basketball polls and analysts project the Badgers will receive a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tournament and open play at the Bradley Center, Bo Ryan's players insist their focus is on closing the regular season with a flourish.
Yet they'll be watching today (6 p.m., ESPN) as first-place Michigan (21-7, 13-3 Big Ten) tries to secure the outright Big Ten title with a victory at Illinois, ending UW's hopes of sharing the title.
“To be completely honest and not to give you the politically correct answer,” freshman Nigel Hayes said after practice Monday, “we'll definitely be Illinois fans. Illini to the end.
“That is for obvious reasons. No team wants to be second or be happy about it. Any help we can get from teams out there, we'd greatly appreciate it.”
UW (24-5, 11-5), which is tied for second place with Michigan State (22-7, 11-5), on Monday climbed five spots to No. 9 in the Associated Press poll and three spots to No. 11 in the USA Today poll.
Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com and Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com project UW will receive a No. 2 seeding when the NCAA Tournament field is announced on March 16.
Both analysts expect UW to open in Milwaukee, with the second- and third-round games set for March 20 and 22.
Yet the UW players are more concerned with their final two regular-season games—Wednesday against visiting Purdue and Sunday at Nebraska.
The Badgers need two victories and two Michigan losses to earn a share of the Big Ten title and they are also in the running for the No. 2 seeding in the Big Ten tournament.
“If we go out and take care of business these next two regular-season games, great,” redshirt junior Josh Gasser said. “And if other things happen, that's even better.”
But Gasser and senior guard Ben Brust acknowledged they'll get sucked into the Michigan-Illinois game as they did on Feb. 26 when Michigan rallied to defeat Purdue in overtime.
“Me and Ben always talk about this,” Gasser said. “We'll get invested in a game and we get our hopes up and usually something bad happens.”
Like when Glenn Robinson III scored at the buzzer to give the Wolverines a 77-76 victory over Purdue and a two-game lead over UW.
The UW players, who were enjoying a day off after defeating Indiana, watched the final minutes while out for dinner.
“We told ourselves we weren't going to get our hopes up,” Gasser said. “We ended up getting our hopes up and that happens.
“We're old guys. We've been through it. We understand, but it is hard to ignore it.”
Brust noted that if the Badgers hadn't lost five of six games earlier this season they might not need help from others.
But he'll be watching the Illini try to upset Michigan.
“Me and Josh know better,” he said. “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 30 times I'm an idiot. I've been doing this since my freshman year. I can't tell you the amount of times I've done that to myself. …
“I'm going to watch it. We're all going to watch it. We're going to get mad. We're going to get up. We're going to get down. It's an emotional roller-coaster.”