MADISON, Wis. - Even after the Badgers lost in the Big Ten Tournament to eventual champion Michigan State, there wasn't any drama surrounding their NCAA Tournament candidacy. The Badgers were given a No. 4 seed by the selection committee, and will play No. 13 Montana in the East (Boston) region. The Badgers (24-9) will play the Grizzlies (25-6) on Thursday in Albuquerque, N. M., with the time still to be determined.
"This team definitely earned that seed, I don't think there's any question about that," head coach Bo Ryan said Sunday in a press conference. "We're proud to be in this thing. We're proud to represent Wisconsin and the Big Ten. I'm so happy for our guys, because this is a great group."
If the Badgers make it past the Grizzlies, they will play either No. 5 Vanderbilt or No. 12 Harvard in the Round of 32. Both the Commodores and the Crimson won their conference's automatic bids, and either team would be a tough matchup for the Badgers to get to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. If they can advance that far again, the Badgers could face No. 1 seed Syracuse, which earned the No. 2 overall seed behind the Kentucky Wildcats.
But the Badgers feel confident as they head into the big dance for the 14th consecutive year, which is tied for the fourth-longest active tournament streak in the nation.
"It's do or die now," junior forward Jared Berggren said. "I think we've shown a lot of stuff that can help us be successful, we've had games where a lot of guys have chipped in … we feel like we can be a tough team to beat."
The Badgers will also face an old friend in their first round matchup. Former Wisconsin guard Freddie Owens is an assistant coach with the Grizzlies, and the Badgers are certainly aware of how familiar Owens is with the Badgers' system. Owens played for the Badgers from 2000-2004, and hit a game winning shot in 2003 to propel the Badgers past Tulsa in that year's NCAA Tournament.
"He's someone that knows a lot about our program and what coach Ryan likes to do," Berggren said Sunday.
But the Badgers aren't overly concerned about Owens' familiarity with the program. For example, Ryan pointed out that familiarity hasn't always helped their Big Ten opponents in the conference season.
"Look at the Big Ten, how much we know each other," Ryan said, "But Freddie might be the most popular guy with (Montana) coach Tinkle."
It's been a season of highs and lows for the Badgers, who will head out to Albuquerque on Tuesday to prepare for their first game. They've followed up head-scratching home losses with upset road wins, but at the end of the year, they're in the big dance once again. Even if consistency was their biggest problem this season, their most important streak lives on.
"I wasn't quite sure we'd be sitting here at times," Ryan said, "So let's see if we can't keep it going."