Badgers need to prove they belong in Big Dance
The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team has returned to March Madness, but it wasn’t as easy this time around.
The No. 12-seeded Badgers are barely heading to the NCAA tournament and avoiding NIT-land for the first time in coach Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin career. They take on No. 5 seed Florida State in Boise, Idaho, at about 9 p.m. Friday.
“We’re happy as a team that we get another shot to prove they made a good choice by picking us in the NCAA tournament,” senior forward Joe Krabbenhoft said. “It’s our last chance, and we recognize that.
“We know the games are numbered … so we’re just extremely excited and ready to get to work.”
After going 19-12 overall and 10-8 in the Big Ten regular season, the Badgers had to sweat it out for a change, as the CBS Selection Show revealed that fellow bubble teams Arizona and Maryland had made the tournament in the first two unveiled regions.
But all worries were quelled at 5:26 pm, when the Badgers watched as CBS slotted their team banner into the East Regional.
“It’s a great feeling, just to know we get another chance to show what we’re made of,” senior forward Marcus Landry said.
Wisconsin joins a group of just seven schools to have made 11 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament—only Michigan State, with 12, has a longer streak in the Big Ten.
However, the No. 12 designation is the lowest seed in school history, and UW has never before had a double-digit seed.
Some good comes with the bad, though. Wisconsin draws a tough first-round opponent in No. 22-ranked Florida State, a first-round victory ensures possibly an easier second-round opponent, which would be the winner of No. 19 Xavier (the lowest-ranked No. 4 seed in the field, by far) and Portland State.
Should the Badgers advance to the Sweet 16, they’ll head to Boston for the East Regional semifinals, most likely against No. 1 seed Pittsburgh.
Florida State (25-9, 10-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) improved its seeding by knocking off North Carolina on its way to the ACC championship game, where it lost Sunday to Duke.
“They’re obviously a team that’s hitting on all cylinders right now,” Ryan said. “They’re very confident. Their quickness and athleticism actually is even better, maybe, than it was before.”
Wisconsin has won both all-time matchups with Florida State, most recently claiming an 81-66 victory in Madison on Nov. 28, 2006, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
When asked what he remembers most about that game, Krabbenhoft joked, “Al Thornton jumping over (former UW center) Greg Stiemsma,” drawing a smirk from Ryan.
Fortunately for Wisconsin, Thornton is long gone to the NBA. Unfortunately for the Badgers, this game won’t be played in the Kohl Center, and the Seminoles are the clear favorites. College basketball analyst Seth Davis said on the CBS Selection Show that he favors FSU to reach the Sweet 16.
But the Badgers are shrugging off their new, unknown role as an underdog in March.
“It doesn’t affect anything,” Landry said. “We’re going to prepare for those guys whether we’re a 1 (seed), a 16, or a 12. It doesn’t matter. You have to go out there with one thing on your mind—to win.”
-- UW will indirectly get a shot at revenge, as Florida State’s football team defeated Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl on Dec. 27 in Orlando.
-- Seven teams from the Big Ten Conference made the 65-team field, tied with the ACC and Big East as the top conference.
Wisconsin has the lowest seed in the conference, as Minnesota and Michigan each are on the No. 10 line. Penn State was the only Big Ten contender left out of the tournament.
-- Wisconsin compiled a 4-10 record against NCAA-qualifying teams this season (4-7 in Big Ten play).