CHICAGO -With a conference title sweep and carrying a wave of momentum, the University of Wisconsin men’s basketball is heading into the NCAA tournament for the first time with a No.1 next to its name.
Continuing its program-record of 17 straight NCAA Tournament appearances (tied for the fourth longest current streak in the nation), Wisconsin (31-3) was rewarded for its superb resume and Big Ten title sweep the top seed in the West Region, opening play Friday at 8:30 p.m. CT against 16th-seed Coastal Carolina in Omaha, Neb.
If Wisconsin's region has a familiar ring to it you're not alone. In addition to Oregon being a potential second game opponent, the West Region has Arizona as the No.2 seed and Baylor as the No.3 seed. Wisconsin beat Baylor in the Sweet 16 and Arizona in the Elite Eight last year to make its first Final Four in 14 years."A lot of things have to happen in order for those rematches to happen," said senior Josh Gasser. "They very easily could, they very easily couldn't. We just have to take it one game at a time."
Duke (South), Kentucky (Midwest) and Villanova (East) were named the other three number one seeds, with Kentucky named the tournament’s overall top seed. At 34-0, Kentucky is looking to become the first undefeated national champion since Indiana in 1975-76.
Finishing fourth in the RPI, Wisconsin went 9-2 against RPI Top 50 teams and has gone 15-2 away from home this season (10-2 on the road, 6-0 in neutral sites). The Badgers won the outright Big Ten title for the fourth time and the Big Ten tournament title for the third time under Ryan.
"It's nice to be No.1, our first in school history," said junior Nigel Hayes, "but we just have to take care of business."
This will be the third meeting between UW and Coastal Carolina (24-9, 12-6 Big South), the most recent a 92-54 victory in 2005. Wisconsin is 7-0 against the Big South.
"(Coastal Carolina coach) Cliff Ellis is a long time coach," said Wisconsin associate head coach Greg Gard. "He's taken over that job after he finished up at Auburn. He's done a good job there. He's breathed a lot of life into that program."UW joins six other Big Ten teams (No.4 Maryland, No.7 Iowa, No.7 Michigan State, No.9 Purdue, No.10 Indiana and No.10 Ohio State) in the 68-team field.
The Badgers are 29-19 in 20 previous appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including last year’s run to the Final Four.
Wisconsin has had postseason success in Omaha, going 2-0 at the site in the 2008 NCAA tournament. The Badgers – also coming off a Big Ten title sweep – were seeded third in the Midwest Regional and beat 14th-seed Cal State Fullerton and 11th-seed Kansas State to advance to the Sweet 16."We've been through it all," said Gasser. "We've won in different ways. Today we showed we can win a tough, grind-em-out game in overtime, similar to what we did last year against Arizona. It's a great feeling going into the tournament that we can come back from any deficit."