After missing out on a share of their third-consecutive Big Ten regular-season championship, men’s basketball coach Bo Ryan and his team have moved on in preparation for the Big Ten tournament.
Wisconsin (21-6, 12-4) is the No. 2 seed in the tournament, receiving a first-round bye for the third straight year. The Badgers will play either No. 7 seed Purdue (17-12, 7-9) or No. 10 seed Minnesota (11-17, 3-13) Friday night at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Even though they will be well rested heading into Friday’s game, Ryan does not believe that an extra day of rest gives the Badgers an overwhelming advantage over their next opponent.
“It’s never mattered,” Ryan said. “Whoever survives has one game in that Fieldhouse. They have all their shooting in and all their playing in. I’ve always felt that always helped teams that get to play on the second day.”
Ryan did not tip his hand when asked which team he would rather face in their second-round match up.
“I don’t think there’s a coach in America that ever said, ‘I’d rather play this team,’” Ryan said. “It doesn’t matter. We just have to go play.”
Perhaps Ryan’s reluctance comes from the fact that Wisconsin has entered the Big Ten tournament as the No. 1 seed each of the last two years only to be upset in the second round. Last year, the Badgers were bumped off by No. 8 seed Ohio State, 58-50. Two years ago, UW was sent packing after a heartbreaking 58-56 loss to No. 9 seed Iowa. Overall, Wisconsin has not won a game in the Big Ten tournament since 2000.
Although he did not discredit the importance of the Big Ten tournament, Ryan considers the tournament games as just another part of the schedule.
“It’s the next game for us right now,” he said. “You go in there and try and compete at the highest level. It’s a tournament, though. It’s a three or four-game winning streak that you’re going to have to go on.”
It will take a five-game winning streak away from the Kohl Center for Badgers to become conference champions. UW rides high into Indy, winners of their last two road games at Michigan State and Indiana. However, stringing together three more wins is still a daunting task, considering their inconsistency on the road during the regular season.
Ryan defended his team’s road record this year, insisting that their 4-4 conference mark away from home is somewhat misleading.
“Taking a bump and struggling are two different things,” Ryan said. “I really don’t look at 4-4 in the conference on the road as struggling. There are a lot of people [who] would do a lot of sacrificing to have what we have.”
He also took a jab at pundits that have been critical of his team’s overall performance on the road.
“I think people are making a huge mistake,” Ryan said. “Our guys played hard and got after it. Sometimes our execution didn’t match the results. In all fairness to my guys and the work they put in and the things they accomplished, I thought they played extremely well on the road.”
The Badgers will look to solidify and improve their NCAA tournament seeding in Indianapolis.
Ryan, speaking from experience, said an early loss in the conference tournament could hurt a team’s seeding in the NCAA’s.
“I would think that if you take a bump early, it’s one spot possibly,” Ryan said. “In some cases, it may not mean a thing. It’s not as much as what some people think if you get bumped earlier. Why should you put so much on one game?”
Even though their performance in the conference tournament will have something to say in determining post-season positioning for his team, Ryan is getting his players ready by downplaying the entire situation.
“Does that make a difference on how you approach a game? Absolutely not,” Ryan said. “We better be on the floor for loose balls and we better be taking charges. We’re still gonna get ready to compete.”