After finishing second in the Big Ten’s regular season, Wisconsin (12-6 Big Ten, 25-6 overall) will head to Indianapolis, Ind., for a chance to win the Big Ten tournament.
This year’s tournament may be as wide open as ever after an anarchic conference season proved to be saturated with talent. To put this depth of the conference in perspective, Iowa has the six seed in the tournament and beat first place Michigan by 18 points back in February.
“This league, it’s the best it’s been in a while,” redshirt junior guard Josh Gasser said. “Every game is going to be a dog fight.”
The Badgers defeated nine of the 11 other teams in the Big Ten this season, with the exception of Ohio State and Nebraska. Fortunately for UW, it would not have to play either of these teams until the championship game this weekend.
Wisconsin’s quest for the tournament championship will begin Friday evening when it plays Minnesota, who beat Penn State in their first round matchup.
“We’ve played both Minnesota and Penn State. We’ve come out on top against both of those teams,” said Gasser. “They both are similar in ways. They’ve got great guard play, bring it defensively and play really hard. It all depends on how hard we play and how well we execute our stuff.”
The Badgers split their games with the Golden Gophers this season, including a 13-point loss on the road in Minneapolis, Minn.
Any Big Ten game will not be a walk in the park.
“We treat every opponent the same,” freshman forward Nigel Hayes said. “They’re the best opponent because they’re next.”
Wisconsin will look to play its style of basketball, regardless of whom they play.
“Now it comes down to, you know, who plays hard and who executes better,” said Gasser. “Every team knows what every team is gonna do.”
The games will take place at the Indianapolis Bankers Life Fieldhouse, a neutral location. UW should not have a problem adapting to the site after losing only three times on the road all season, including its last game at Nebraska.
“We’re a team that kind of likes that challenge and likes that excitement in other arenas,” sophomore forward Sam Dekker said. “Nebraska’s place was jumping. That was a fun place to play.”
Last season the Badgers made it all the way to the Big Ten championship game before falling to Ohio State.
The Big Ten tournament championship concludes Sunday, after which the NCAA tournament selection committee will finalize its bracket.
For bubble teams like Nebraska, Minnesota and Indiana, a Big Ten tournament victory may be the only route to the NCAA tournament.
“I’m eager to be out there,” Dekker said. “I’m excited. It’s the best time of the year, in my opinion, and it’s the best time of the year you want to be playing basketball.”