The University of Wisconsin men's basketball team found out Sunday evening that its next game will be an NCAA Tournament first-round matchup at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, about 12 miles from head coach Bo Ryan's hometown of Chester, Pa.
"Whatever media credentials or tickets that you guys get a hold of that you're not using I need them," Ryan half-jokingly told assorted media at the Kohl Center Sunday. "That's all I know. I've got to take care of family. And I'll let everybody that's traveling to Philly know where to get the best cheesesteaks."
The Badgers (19-11) received a No. 9 seed in the Minneapolis regional and will face No. 8 seed Arizona (19-12) Friday. The winner of that game will likely face No. 1 seed Villanova (25-4) in a second-round matchup Sunday at the Wachovia Center. Villanova's first-round opponent will be the winner of Tuesday's play-in game between Monmouth (18-14) and Hampton (16-15).
Two wins in Philly would put the Badgers in the Sweet Sixteen at the Metrodome in Minneapolis on March 24.
Sunday, though, the Badgers were focused simply on being in the NCAA Tournament and getting back to practice Monday in preparation for Arizona. As Ryan, senior Ray Nixon and junior Alando Tucker addressed the media, the Badgers' assistant coaches were busy breaking down film on Arizona.
In the media room, Tucker recommended that visitors to Philadelphia try out a cheesesteak pizza. During Tucker's time at Wisconsin, the Badgers have visited Philadelphia for road games against Temple and Penn.
It is a fulfilling sidebar for Ryan, whose octogenarian parents, Butch and Louise, still live in Chester.
"Well I thought it was pretty neat," Ryan said. "When you looked at those things, you'd have to be somebody without a pulse to be in my position as a coach and look at the destinations—and I was even hoping for Philly over San Diego if you can believe that.
"It's pretty exciting. It's a chance, when you have parents 82 and 80-whatever, and they get a chance to just get a taxi and get to the game. That's pretty good."
Wisconsin heads into the NCAA Tournament having lost three straight games and four of its last five. All four losses, however, were in hostile environments—at Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa, and a "neutral" court Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal versus Indiana in Indianapolis.
"The past three games, those were NCAA-like atmospheres that we played in," Tucker said, referring to losses to the Spartans, Hawkeyes and Hoosiers.
Said Ryan: "We didn't come out on the side of the column that we wanted but we played some good teams that taught us a few things about our weaknesses and you have to correct some of that action and get ready for the next one."
The next one is a date with Arizona. It is an opportunity to start fresh for a team that opened the season 14-2, but is 5-9 since forward Marcus Landry and center Greg Stiemsma were ruled academically ineligible.
"We have a chance to make something happen," Nixon said. "We have to take it one game at a time and really stick to Wisconsin basketball."
Arizona tied for fourth place in the Pac-10 with an 11-7 conference record. Four Wildcats average double-figure scoring, but their leading scorer, senior guard Hassan Adams, was suspended for the Pac-10 Tournament after he was cited for allegedly driving under the influence. He is expected to play in the NCAA Tournament.
The Badgers finished in a fourth-place tie in the Big Ten but received the lowest seed of the six conference teams that received invites Sunday. Indiana and sixth-place Michigan State were the next lowest, having each received a No. 6 seed.
"The seed? Whoever wins it all is going to win six (games)," Ryan said. "Unless that 65th team wins, and they win seven.
"The seed, right now, to us, that doesn't matter."
The NCAA Tournament is effectively uncharted territory for most of the current Badgers. In last season's run to the Elite Eight, only Tucker and point guard Kammron Taylor, then the team's sixth man, played extensively. The only other current players who were even on the team were Nixon, Brian Butch, Michael Flowers, Jason Chappell and Tanner Bronson.
"In order to win in the tournament, in any tournament, you have to be consistent. That's what we're searching for," Ryan said. "We're going to search for consistency this week and try to put it to good use Friday."
The upcoming weekend in Philadelphia is another chapter in a campaign that began with preseason workouts in September, running ‘The Hill' at Elver Park.
"It flies by quick," Nixon said. "One minute you are running The Hill, the next minute you are a nine-seed in Philly."