MADISON - More often than not, "March Madness" lives up to its billing. The bracket craze touches almost all of us in some way, whether it's spending hours trying to pick the perfect bracket, or flipping a coin for every game in your office's pool.
But does the Madness affect the players who actually live it? After all, they're the ones who travel to far-flung parts of the country, hoping to stay alive for yet another game. How do they handle the craziness that comes part and parcel with their sport's postseason?
"You've just got to take it game by game," Wisconsin senior point guard Jordan Taylor said Monday after practice. "All of the hoopla, all of the media talk really at this point is just out the window."
Considering how prevalent the NCAA Tournament is this time of year, that's not an easy thing to do. Turn on any sports channel in the next few days, and it's likely analysts will be breaking down a region or two, with a few upset picks thrown in for good measure. If you're interested in sports in any way, it's hard to just shut that out.
"You turn on the TV and it's there all the time," sophomore guard Josh Gasser said Monday. "We're all big sports guys, and they're always picking games on ESPN. You've seen a couple guys pick against us already, it's just something that you've just got to deal with."
Picking against the No. 4 Badgers has been a trendy pick as of late. With No. 13 Montana riding a 14-game winning streak and the Badgers' tendency to go cold for stretches during games, many analysts have the Badgers staying in the Big Dance for just a few days. But being almost underrated isn't a novel concept to the Badgers.
"We went through it last year- it's a similar situation," Gasser said. "People thought Belmont could make a run, and the same thing with this Montana team. It's really just going to come down to the 40 minutes on the court though. All the other stuff is fun, but it's going to come down to what we do."
The Badgers ended up beating both Belmont and Kansas State en route to a bid in the Sweet 16, where they lost to Butler, the eventual national runner-up. But the Badgers don't begrudge the analysts for doubting them. In fact, going under the radar can be used for a little extra motivation in the long run.
"They're doing their jobs, but at the same time it is a little motivating," Gasser said. "It makes us definitely not overlook anyone, knowing how good Montana is. They're going to be a really tough out, but if we play our game we should be just fine."
"People are obviously going to pick who they want- that's the fun of March Madness, but you've just got to take it game by game," Taylor said. "We'd be lying if we said we didn't hear some of it, just because we watch ESPN and we're not naïve and stuff like that. But we don't really buy into any of that stuff, and we just try to come out here and play well."
The Badgers will travel to Albuquerque, N. M., Tuesday morning, where they will play Montana on Tuesday afternoon at 1:20 p.m. CST. The game is scheduled to air on TNT, and the winner will advance to play either No. 5 Vanderbilt or No. 12 Harvard in the Round of 32.
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