Continuing its program-record of 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances (tied for the fourth longest current streak in the nation), Wisconsin (24-9) was announced as a No.4 seed in the East Region, opening play Thursday against 13th-seed Montana in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
"We're proud to be in this thing," said UW coach Bo Ryan. "We're proud to represent Wisconsin, the Big Ten. I am so happy for our guys because this is a gritty group."
The winner will play the winner of No.5 Vanderbilt and No.12 Harvard on Saturday with that winner going to the Sweet 16, on March 22 in Boston.
"You can't look at the whole region and expect to walk through and get to the Sweet 16," said junior Jared Berggren. "All we're focused on is game on Montana on Thursday. That's going to be our focus and hopefully we can survive and advance."
Wisconsin finished 12-6 and alone in fourth place in the Big Ten, the 11th time in 11 seasons that the Badgers finished in fourth place of better in the Big Ten under UW coach Bo Ryan, who on Friday became the school's all-time wins leader (266-100).
Of the Badgers' nine losses, seven came to teams ranked inside the RPI top-50, and they finished the season with an RPI of 18.
"This team definitely earned that seed," said Ryan. "I don't think there is any question about that."
The Badgers enter the NCAA Tournament winning four of five and improving their record away from the Kohl Center to 10-5 overall and 3-1 on neutral sites.
Montana (25-6, 15-1 Big Sky), winners of 14, won the regular season title and its conference tournament to earn the program's ninth NCAA Tournament appearance. The Grizzlies are led by junior Will Cherry's 16.0 points per game and have former Badgers guard Freddie Owens is an assistant coach for the Griz.
"He's really a tough defensive player," Ryan said of Owens. "He played guys a lot bigger than him. That expression ‘It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog,' Freddie would be a poster guy for that saying."
This will be the first meeting between the two schools since the Badgers won a 78-61 decision on November 30, 1997 in Hilo, Hawaii. UW is 2-0 all-time against Montana.
"Every team that is in this tournament is capable of winning," said senior Jordan Taylor. "Everybody has earned their right to be in the tournament. Every team is going to play hard and no game is an easy one. We're going to come in and try to find ways to beat new teams."
Wisconsin is 5-1 all-time against the Big Sky Conference and will join five other Big Ten teams (No.1 Michigan State, No.2 Ohio State, No.4 Michigan, No.4 Indiana and No.10 Purdue) in the 68-team field.
The Badgers are 23-16 in 17 previous appearances in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Badgers defeated No.13 Belmont and No.5 Kansas State before losing to eighth-seed and eventual national runner-up Butler, 61-54, in the Sweet 16 in New Orleans.
Wisconsin went 7-7 against the 2012 NCAA Tournament field, giving the Badgers plenty of tournament experience.
"It's do-or-die now," said Berggren. "I think we've shown a lot of stuff that will help us be successful. We've had games where a lot of different guys have chipped in. The Indiana game for example, Rob Wilson coming off the bench and having a huge game. It doesn't matter who it is. Guys are all looking to be aggressive, playing with confidence, looking for their shot and sticking to our rules defensively.
"If we do that, we'll be tough to beat."