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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Can the Badgers scrap their way to a Big Ten tournament title? (PHOTO: Maggie Casey / Marquette Athletics)

Does the Big 10 tourney mean anything for the Badgers?


The Big Ten Tournament begins today at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis and it should be one of the most entertaining conference basketball tournaments in the country.

At the top, you've got legitimate powerhouses, even true national championship contenders, some might say. All the way at the bottom, you've got a couple teams that, well, can beat those powerhouses.

The coaches will pat each other on the back for this, conference love and professional respect and all.

But what does it mean?

By ranking, the Big Ten has been one of the best – if not the best – overall conference in the country this season. Michigan State was the top-ranked team in the nation at one point. Wisconsin and Ohio State each rose as high as No. 3.

Michigan, the conference regular season champs, has been in the top 10. So has Iowa. Even Illinois cracked the top 25.

Then, conference bottom feeder Northwestern beat the ranked Illini, and also marched into the Kohl Center and handed the Badgers their hats. Penn State swept Ohio State this year.

The Golden Gophers beat the Badgers, Buckeyes and the Hawkeyes. Indiana beat Michigan, but lost to Northwestern and Penn State.

Oh, Illinois beat Michigan State, too.

All that tells me is that on a neutral court, literally anyone in the conference can beat anyone else. If Wisconsin loses to, say, Indiana in the second round after a bye, would you be surprised? Upset?

If the Badgers won it all, but beat Purdue, Ohio State and Iowa to do it, would you think Bo Ryan's crew was finally primed for a Final Four run?

All the Badgers have proven to this point is that they're a very good team, and that Ryan has only further cemented his reputation as a master recruiter for his system – a system that lends itself to heavy win totals in a really balanced conference.

"We've all been raised with the idea that don't be a flash in the pan as a person, and as a team we don't want Wisconsin to be a flash in the pan," Ryan said. "We'd like them to be consistently competitive at a high level. And some years are going to be a little better than others.

"I think our players have responded to that. They've taken what abilities that they have (and) they've worked together. The synergy that they have produces a record. The record is this number on the left (and) this number on the right. Where that puts you each year varies."

Unfortunately, where the record eventually leads the Badgers is to the second round of the NCAA tournament – regardless of where it put them in the Big Ten tournament.

A "run" of some kind in Indianapolis would serve this team well, to know what it feels like to win multiple games in a row, away from the Kohl Center, against tournament caliber competition.

In the end we may be able to make some judgments on the conference, but we know the winner of it will have to learn those things.

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