Over Wisconsin men's basketball coach Bo Ryan's seven seasons in Madison, the Badgers have never missed the NCAA tournament, the benchmark for quality in college hoops. Badger fans have come to expect their team to be alive in March, and with a 9-3 nonconference record going into Wednesday afternoon's Big Ten kickoff game at Michigan, they have reason to be confident again this year.
But missing from the 2008-09 Badgers' résumé is something they've had in many of Ryan's previous seasons: a win over a big-time team in the nonconference season. These "signature wins," as the NCAA tournament selection committee calls them, can influence the seeding process.
Last year, Wisconsin put away ninth-ranked Texas on the road and ended up with a three-seed in the tournament. In 2006, the Badgers beat second-ranked Pitt at the Kohl Center in December and were rewarded with a two-seed.
This year, Wisconsin is 0-3 against name programs after a thorough whupping by Connecticut at the Paradise Jam in late November and close losses to Marquette and Texas. A win at Virginia Tech's raucous North Charleston Coliseum in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge was respectable and no easy feat; but the Hokies are sitting at 6-4, so that win won't jump off the page at season's end.
Wisconsin opens conference play at Michigan and returns home to play perennial doormats Penn State and Northwestern. Some fans predict a 3-0 record this time next week, but knowing how tough it is to win on the road in the Big Ten, 2-1 is more realistic. Either way, the Badgers won't have another opportunity for a signature win until they head to Purdue on Jan. 11.