CHICAGO — The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball players don’t really care what people think of them or their methodical style of play.
But when asked what people might have been thinking when the Badgers mixed in some rare transition baskets against high-scoring Indiana on Saturday at the United Center, UW forward Mike Bruesewitz offered up one possible response from fans:
“Dang, those boys are athletic.”
Bruesewitz got plenty of laughs with that line at the news conference following 22nd-ranked UW’s stunningly complete 68-56 victory over third-ranked Indiana in the semifinals of the Big Ten Conference tournament, but impressing people is no longer a laughing matter for the Badgers.
Their improbable march to today’s Big Ten tournament final against 10th-ranked Ohio State has been notable both for their high quality of play and the even higher quality of the teams they beat. Indiana is a lock for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and sixth-ranked Michigan was considered a good bet for a No. 2 seed until it lost to UW by nine points in Friday’s quarterfinal.
Now the question has become: Were the members of the NCAA selection committee, holed up in an Indianapolis hotel, watching UW dispatch two teams that were ranked No. 1 in the nation at some point this season?
“I hope so,” guard Ben Brust said. “I don’t know where they are right now, but I hope they like what they’re seeing.”
What’s not to like? Since halftime of the Michigan game, UW has played its best basketball of the season. More important, everyone is playing well at the same time. Each of the eight Badgers who played against Indiana made a significant contribution. And they even showed off their athleticism, blocking 10 — yes, 10 — Indiana shots.
After playing fitfully all season, UW suddenly looks like the equal of any team in the nation’s strongest conference. Still, no one ever knows what the selection committee is thinking.
“I’m sure they have (noticed),” forward Jared Berggren said. “We’re not really too concerned about what’s going to happen there. A lot of the resume is already built throughout the season, but getting two big wins the last two days definitely won’t hurt us. But right now we’re just focused on trying to get another win (today) and hopefully win the championship.”
Winning the tournament title for the first time since 2008 is UW’s sole goal today because the lateness of the Big Ten final basically takes it out of the mix for seeding purposes. Most experts had UW as a fifth, sixth or seventh seed prior to the Michigan game, but knocking off two heavyweights by sizable margins — indeed, UW is 4-0 against Indiana and Michigan this season — can’t help but impress the committee.
Or so one would think. If UW’s tournament run doesn’t positively affect its seeding, it wouldn’t be the first time a team has sent a message that the committee didn’t receive.
“They’ve got a mind of their own,” guard Traevon Jackson said. “All we can really do is just worry about us, let our record and our wins and our losses speak for themselves and hope for the best.”
Perhaps more than making a point with the committee, the Badgers proved something to themselves with their back-to-back victories. That is especially true since the Big Ten’s semifinal lineup could be stronger than the NCAA Final Four in three weeks.
UW continued to exploit a favorable matchup over Indiana on Saturday, extending its winning streak over the Hoosiers to 12 games. UW always gets Indiana to play at its speed and the Hoosiers don’t react well when someone slows them down. Still, Indiana is considered one of the two most talented teams in the country (along with Duke).
“I think it just shows that we’re capable of competing with and beating anyone,” Berggren said. “When we play our game, when we stick to our rules, play as a team, help each other out, take care of the ball, play solid defense like we take pride in, then we’re capable of beating anyone. I think we’ve shown that the last two days in beating two very good teams.”
It’s hard to argue with that logic. However, logic seldom enters into NCAA seeding.
Remember, the committee considers a team’s entire body of work and UW struggled early after losing point guard Josh Gasser to injury. But the Badgers are 17-6 since their 6-4 start and have seven victories over teams that were ranked in the top 25, tying Indiana for the most in the country. On Saturday, UW’s 12-point victory was the largest margin of defeat for the Hoosiers this season.
No matter what happens today against another likely No. 2 seed in Ohio State, UW deserves at least a No. 4 seed when the NCAA field is announced today.
“Hopefully,” forward Sam Dekker said, “we’ve opened some eyes.”
If these two victories didn’t do that, nothing will.