The difference this year is the Badgers, after consecutive sluggish performances, know that it's now or never to prove their worth.
Continuing its program-record of 13 straight NCAA Tournament appearances (tied for the fifth longest current streak in the nation), Wisconsin (23-8) was announced as a No.4 seed in the Southeast Region, opening play Thursday against 13th-seed Belmont in Tuscon, Ariz.
The winner will play the winner of No.5 Kansas State and No.12 Utah State on Saturday with that winner going to the Sweet 16 in New Orleans.
"It's definitely exciting to be in the tournament," said junior guard Jordan Taylor. "Not everybody gets to participate in this. It's one of the best times of the year, probably even better than Christmas for a lot of us." Wisconsin finished 13-5 and third place in the Big Ten, but struggled mightily against Penn State in the Big Ten Tournament Quarterfinals, scoring its fewest points in 12 years in a 36-33 loss to Penn State. For the third straight season, the Badgers enter the national tournament after going one-and-done in the conference tournament.
"We don't get too down after a losses or too high after a wins, so we've move on and definitely going to try and learn from that and correct the mistakes we had in that game," senior Jon Leuer said. "All our focus is on the tournament and you can't win the next one without the first one. "We're focusing on Belmont right now and that's where all our energy and intensity is." Located in Nashville, Belmont (30-4, 19-1 Atlantic Sun), winners of 21 of 22, won its conference tournament and are looking for its first win in the school's third automatic berth into the tournament. The Bruins have five players that average over 7.7 points per game, led by sophomore guard Ian Clark and his 12.4 points per game.
This will be the first meeting between the two schools
"They're a good team, obviously, or they wouldn't be in the tournament," UW Coach Bo Ryan said. "The scout team will present what they try to do to the best of their ability. The other part is that we have to do what we do and do that a little bit better, find the bottom of the net a few more times." Wisconsin is 2-0 all-time against the Atlantic Sun Conference and will join six other Big Ten teams (No.1 Ohio State, No.4 Purdue, No.8 Michigan, No.9 Illinois, No.10 Penn State and No.10 Michigan State) in the 68-team field.
"It's pretty impressive," Ryan said. "We've played some pretty good teams and this is a good group of guys that know how to get things done."
The Badgers are 21-15 in 16 previous appearances and have made the tournament's second weekend once in the last five seasons.
"We've got a group of guys that will stick together through anything," Leuer said. "Now, we're moving on to the next thing, which is the NCAA Tournament … The six seniors on this team know this is our last go around, and we're going to do everything we can to make it special and last for as long as it can. We've worked too hard for it to end sooner rather than later."