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Mike Lopresti | | March 13, 2015

Wisconsin making its case for a top seed

Gamechanger: Late run propels Badgers

CHICAGO -- Don’t do it, NCAA basketball committee. Not to Wisconsin.

OK, someone has to be No. 2 seed in Kentucky’s region. Just like someone has to go into the jungle and catch cobras. Maybe they should get all the No. 2 seeds together and have them draw for the short straw.

Popular thought predicts the Badgers. It’s the geography thing. Kentucky will most certainly be sent to the nearby Midwest Regional in Cleveland. If Wisconsin is a No. 2 seed, it’ll be the closest option. Gonzaga and Arizona are several time zones away, and Kansas is out there beyond the Mississippi River, too. Wisconsin is the handiest.

Wisconsin coach Bo RyanWisconsin coach Bo Ryan
Most years, this is not a big deal. Most years, all the No. 1 seeds look pretty much alike. This is not most years. The road to the Final Four would seem like a one-lane deathtrap curving along a cliff, if it goes through Kentucky.

Selection Sunday is coming. Maybe the Badgers can avoid all this by grabbing off a No. 1 seed, and watching the 32-0 Wildcats on television from another region. Scenarios, scenarios. So what are they thinking in the Wisconsin camp?

"It hasn't been mentioned once, in the locker room, in any conversations with the players, with the coaches,’’ Bo Ryan said Friday after Wisconsin slipped out of a Michigan upset trap 71-60 in a Big Ten quarterfinal. "I've always figured that if you just take care of business, that people in the know will know what to do with your team. That's all we can do. We can control our destiny simply by playing well on every possession, and if that's good enough, then so be it. If it's not, then we just ‑‑ all we know is we're going to be playing in the NCAA tournament.’’

So goes the Badgers’ party line, as a shelter from all the noise that invariably rattles around college basketball this weekend.

From Bronson Koenig, "We’re going to play them eventually (if both advance that far), so it doesn’t really matter to us when we play them.’’

Nothing wrong with wanting to play the Wildcats, especially after losing to them last year on Andrew Harrison’s 3-pointer in the final seconds. But that was the Final Four. And this ain’t Kentucky, 2014. There is no reason to be in any particular hurry to do it.

From Josh Gasser, asked if all this was a subject of frequent conversation: "From the media, yeah. In our locker room, not at all.

"I watch college basketball. I turn on SportsCenter all the time. We understand the situation and scenario. But we don’t talk about it. I think we’re smart enough guys and being through it last year, we understand it’s more about how you’re playing. The selection committee can do whatever they want. We’re just going to continue to play our game and try to get better.’’

From Ryan’s long-time assistant Greg Gard: "These guys are 18 to 23, 24 years old. It’s human nature. They’re going to watch it. They’re going to talk about it [except maybe around Ryan]. But you try to make sure your focal point is on the things that matter.’’

Meanwhile, everyone else can focus on the Wisconsin Conundrum.

Hand the highest No. 2 seed the toughest No. 1 task? Do that to a 29-3 Wisconsin team that has trailed in the second half six games all season? That has 16 wins against teams in the top 100 RPI?

Do that to Ryan, who might be on the doorstep of the Hall of Fame? And Frank Kaminsky, the everyman’s national player of the year?

Do that to an outfit that has its team picture in the dictionary next to the word "efficiency"? The Badgers came into Friday with the fewest fouls, fewest turnovers and fewest opposing free throw attempts in the nation. Also, according to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers crunching, the most points per possession.

They had seven turnovers against Michigan Friday, and five fouls. The Wolverines shot only two free throws, and missed them both.

Not that it wasn’t a test. Michigan pushed Wisconsin most of the game and the Badgers had the occasional flub. Running a fast break late in the first half, Sam Dekker tried a behind-the-back pass that caromed out of bounds.

Every Bucky Badger T-shirt owner in Wisconsin knew what would happen next. Ryan affixed a glare that could have melted a bowling ball, then turned and sent in a substitute to yank Dekker from the game, never mind only 10.9 seconds remained in the half. "What the hell was that?’’ Ryan barked as his junior forward trudged past to the bench.

"In hindsight,’’ Dekker later said in the locker room, "that was kind of dumb.’’

It would seem the Badgers have at least earned a Kentucky-avoidance path. Maybe even more, should they win the Big Ten tournament.

"If we come out of here Sunday with a trophy, I think it’s hard not to have us as a No. 1 [seed],’’ Dekker said. "But whatever.’’

Now that he mentions it, that will have to be the attitude of anyone thrown into the Kentucky pool Sunday. Whatever.

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