The NCAA tournament might be daunting for some. But The Badgers have been there before. This very season.
Few teams have played the same type of rigorous regular-season schedule as Wisconsin, not just because of the Big Ten gauntlet but also thanks to a packed non-conference slate that featured games against five teams that ended up in the tournament, including two No. 1 seeds.
And the Badgers won all of them.
That list, in case you were wondering, is: No. 1 Florida, No. 1 Virginia, No. 5 St. Louis, No. 15 Wisconsin Milwaukee and No. 15 Eastern Kentucky. Wisconsin beat all of them during their torrid undefeated tear through the first half of the season. As for how the Badgers fared against the five Big Ten opponents that made the tournament, they posted a 4-4 record, with wins coming twice against Iowa and once against each Michigan school.
So this group has proven it can beat the kind of competition it’s going to see in the tournament. But that was the fall, the winter. This is March.
"If you want to be remembered as being a good team, it's always nice to perform well in March,” Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser said Sunday. “The goal is to win, so the more games you can win, the better your team will be, I guess. Ultimately, we all have our roles, and the team goal is to play as many games as we can. So we're just going to try to take it one game at a time, one possession at a time, and see how far we can take this thing and I think we'll be all right.”
The Badgers start their tournament journey against 15-seed American University, the champions of the Patriot League. The Eagles rank seventh in the country and have four players averaging more than 11 points per game. Senior center Tony Wroblicky averages 12.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. On defense, American hasn’t allowed an opponent to reach 60 points over its last six games.
But for all those pretty numbers, Bo Ryan’s bunch will have a distinct home-court advantage in its first game and its second, should it advance past American. The Badgers are playing in Milwaukee, just a short drive from campus in Madison.
Survive and advance
The winner of Oregon and BYU awaits the winner of Wisconsin and American. If Wisconsin gets to the Sweet Sixteen, potential opponents could be Doug McDermott and Creighton, a strong Baylor team or even conference foe Nebraska, which dealt the Badgers a loss in the final game of the regular season. The West Regional Final could pit the Badgers against any number of teams, should they get there. No. 1 Arizona, No. 4 San Diego State and No. 5 Oklahoma — even No. 9 Oklahoma State — could provide down-the-road challenges.
One shining moment
The Badgers have tons of options, plenty of guys that could have huge games and move them along in the bracket. Ben Brust is a great sharpshooter, Sam Dekker plays a strong all-around game. But the guy who Wisconsin can lean on is Frank Kaminsky, the seven-footer at center who can score from anywhere on the floor. He can body guys down low and get to the line. He can make the 3-point shot. He’s Wisconsin’s leading scorer and rebounder, and he’s scored 20-plus points in four of the Badgers’ last eight games.
How far can they get?
Wisconsin is just as talented as any other team in its region, making them a favorite to reach the Final Four. The first two games will be virtual home games, though the Badgers can stack up with anyone anywhere, as they proved with big wins over tough competition throughout the season. There might be no other team in the country as prepared for this tournament as the Badgers are. Final Four and beyond, it’s all possible for this Wisconsin team.