Can the Badgers make a serious Big Ten Tournament run?
In the topsy-turvy world that is college basketball, especially the 2012-13 version of the game, it's anybody's guess as to who will walk out of the United Center in Chicago on Sunday holding the Big Ten Tournament championship trophy.
It can be argued that the Big Ten has been the best conference in the game for this season, as seven of the 12 have appeared in the Associated Press Top 25 poll at one point or another this season.
Two teams – Indiana (10 weeks) and Michigan (one week) – spent time at No. 1. Four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State) have spent time in the top five. Those programs, along with Minnesota and Illinois, have all enjoyed points ranked in the top 10.
Yet Northwestern, a program that has never reached the NCAA Tournament, has victories over Minnesota and Illinois. Iowa has beaten Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Penn State beat Michigan and Purdue topped Wisconsin in Madison. Indiana lost to Illinois and Wisconsin, but not when either was ranked.
"I think every game is going to be a challenge no matter who it is," Badgers guard Ben Brust said. "Any team can beat any team. That's for when we're playing a team and that's for when other teams are playing other teams."
It's been a wild ride so far, and in the one-and-done tournament setting, nearly every team in this conference is liable to win – or be beaten – regardless of pedigree or national rank.
"You know, if you really think back and sit down and look, I'm sure there's been years like this, but let's face it, fans are only interested in now, the precious present," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said.
"I'm sure fans … when you talk about predictability, as coaches, we're always trying to do certain things. It's not unpredictable what we're trying to do, and players are trying to do certain things. So you can't say they're unpredictable.
"Results are unpredictable. So to me, it would seem like it would be something that fans would relish. I would think this would have to be a great year for college basketball fans to see what's been going on."
All that unpredictability means that Ryan's Badgers could easily walk away not only with the Big Ten tournament title, but a high seed in next week's NCAA Tournament. Ryan has led this gritty Badgers squad to victories over Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan and, at the time, the then 12th-ranked Illini and then 12th-ranked Golden Gophers.
For as unstable as this year has been in his eyes, Ryan refuses to say whether or not his team has exceeded expectations.
"I wouldn't want to venture to label a team at all because they're still doing what they're doing," he said. "We'll help them as much as we can. So let them make the statement with their play."
Wisconsin begins the Big Ten tournament as the No. 4 overall seed, earning a first round bye. The Badgers will likely play Michigan while top-seeded Indiana would be a probable semi-final opponent.
However, it is the Big Ten, and here are no cakewalks – as the Badgers' disappointing 14-point home loss to the Boilermakers proved – but the team does have confidence.
"I think we're playing at a high level right now," forward Jared Berggren said. "Offensively, we're playing at a higher level. We're shooting better, which is a big part of why we look so good is just because we're hitting shots right now. We're also making hard cuts, being efficient defensively and kind of getting things all on the same page here and playing hard."
Depends which team shows up - the one that beat Indiana and Michigan, or the one that lost to Iowa and Minnesota. If they get hot, look out. They have the potential to be an Elite 8....MAYBE Final 4 team (imagine if they had Gasser). Could care less about a B10 tourney title. Either way, it'll be fun to watch!
If Wisconsin has a good game...they can compete with anybody...they just need to get hot at the right time.
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