Badgers preparing for both potential Big Ten tourney opponents

After watching his team lose at Nebraska on Sunday, Badgers coach Bo Ryan has turned his attention to preparing for the Big Ten tournament.

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MADISON, Wis. — It has become a custom of sorts for Wisconsin to spend its week of the Big Ten tournament practicing for two opponents. That’s because the Badgers, who earned an opening-round bye for the 14th consecutive season, won’t know exactly which team they’ll face until Thursday night.

Second-seeded Wisconsin (25-6, 12-6 Big Ten) plays the winner of No. 7 Minnesota (19-12, 8-10)/No. 10 Penn State (15-16, 6-12) at 5:30 p.m. CT Friday in Indianapolis. And while that scenario has the potential to complicate practices, it’s also a good problem to have. After all, the Badgers get an extra day of practice and far more rest.

"We’ve got Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday to prepare," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said Monday on the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference. "When we practice on Thursday before we leave for Indy, we won’t know the outcome. So it’ll be one day one team, one day the next and then a little bit of both on the third day.

"The other part is to make sure we’re ready, that we’re doing the things that we normally do with as much efficiency as we can."

Cornhuskers 77, Badgers 68

Given the maddening unpredictability of the Big Ten this season — and Wisconsin’s close games against both teams — neither opponent would seem to represent a sure-fire victory despite what the seeding suggests.

Wisconsin played Penn State just once this season, on March 2, and escaped with a 71-66 victory in State College. Josh Gasser scored 15 points for the Badgers and was joined in double figures by Ben Brust (14 points) and Traevon Jackson (13 points). But Penn State was within two points on Tim Frazier’s layup with 18 seconds remaining.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin split a pair of games with Minnesota, losing 81-68 on the road and winning at the Kohl Center, 78-70.

The Big Ten tournament began in 1998, and Wisconsin has the fourth-best winning percentage in the event (.548), going 17-14.

Ryan was asked about the importance of the Big Ten tournament in helping to define goals for a team as it prepared for the NCAA tournament.

"As a guy that hated to lose a game of marbles growing up or being forced to give my baseball cards to somebody else, I don’t like being on that side of the fence," Ryan said. "When you say importance or anything else, we prepare the best way we can for the Big Ten tournament because it’s on the schedule and it’s next. As far as putting degrees or numbers one to 10 or anything like that, I’m not into that. It’s the next thing on our schedule.

"It’s extremely important to the players. If you’re going to get into something, you may as well try to do the best you can. We’ve been on all ends of it. Winning it. Losing in our first game. Getting to the final several times. We’ve been all over the map as far as our results. Some coaches if they don’t win it, it’s kind of like, ‘Well maybe it’s best we lost. We can stay healthy for the NCAA tournament.’ I don’t buy any of that. If you’re in it, you’re in it to try and get the whole thing. It’s important because it’s there. It’s there on the schedule."

Holding steady: Any talk of Wisconsin obtaining a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament likely flew out the window with Sunday’s 77-68 loss at Nebraska in the regular-season finale. But the Badgers should feel confident in knowing their place as a No. 2 seed is secure, barring perhaps a Friday loss in their first Big Ten tournament game.

In Joe Lunardi’s latest edition of Bracketology on ESPN.com, Wisconsin is listed in the West Region as a No. 2 seed against No. 15 Robert Morris. In Jerry Palm’s CBSSports.com projection, Wisconsin is in the South Region as a No. 2 seed against No. 15 Wright State.

In both instances, Wisconsin is projected to play the opening two rounds in Milwaukee. The final two rounds of the West Region are in Anaheim, while the South Region will hold its final two rounds in Memphis. Kansas is projected as the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, which has the final two rounds in Indianapolis — site of the Big Ten tournament.

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Wisconsin has assured itself of a 16th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, which is tied with Gonzaga for the fourth-longest active streak in the country. The only programs ahead of those two teams are Kansas (25 consecutive seasons, including this year), Duke (19) and Michigan State (17).

"Wow, that’s good company to be in with" Ryan said when asked about the streak. "We’ve always talked about trying to be as consistent as we can year in and year out with some years the talent meshing together maybe a little bit better, the chemistry on a team working a little bit better. You get the right matchups in the tournament to see how far you can go.

"But the main thing is for three months, four months, you’ve been one of the most consistent teams. That’s what it says. So the players should take a lot of pride in that. It’s a standard that a lot of people measure things by. As a coach, I measure the highest standard of trying to teach young men how to deal with the ups and downs of competition, preparing guys for life. But at this time of the year, that is put way back on anybody’s priority list, of what you do for all the months leading to March and early April.

"I am very proud of our guys to be able to handle all that through all these years and still have a chance to play in what now is considered a third season since the second season is the Big Ten tournament. I think there’s a lot of credit that goes to the consistency of the players, the work of the assistant coaches, their preparation, what they do. That’s a nice number to have."

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