INDIANAPOLIS -- A voltatile Big Ten conference season has evolved into a predictable Saturday at the conference tournament, while a howling mess swept through other precincts around the country. All of which streamlined things for Wisconsin and Michigan very nicely. From opposite sides of one bracket at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, they now chase the same spot in a different event: The last No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
It is not news to them, even if they pretend it to be.
"I never answer anything about seeds," Badgers coach Bo Ryan said Friday night, after his team wiped out Minnesota in a quarterfinal. "Sunflower seeds, when I used to play baseball, I chewed them. That's the only seeds I know anything about."
The next two days may prove instructive. Someone equipped that last spot on the top line of NCAA seeding with a trap door, as team after team rotates through only to fall out abruptly. Villanova was the latest casualty, ousted by Seton Hall in the Big East tournament, and Kansas and Syracuse face-planted in their conference tournaments before they even got a real chance to make a case. But all that has removed the threat for the Wolverines and the Badgers. Their resumes are airtight enough and the other options are flimsy enough that respective semifinal matchups Saturday become elimination games.
Essentially, whoever wins more games in the Big Ten tournament should get that No. 1 seed. Wisconsin (26-6) goes into Saturday at No. 5 in the RPI, with the nation's second-toughest schedule, and with seven top 50 wins. Michigan (24-7) enters at No. 10 in the RPI, with the nation's seventh-toughest schedule, and with nine wins against the top 50. They split the season series and now it's splitting hairs to determine which one is more worthy of the top line. Currently, in the SI.com bracket, it's the Badgers, who are taking a machete to opponents now much like they did early in the season, winning nine of 10.
There's something to be said, though, for the consistency of the Wolverines in a wild league. And they are driven by not as many people saying it as they'd expect. "As a team, I just feel like we don't get the respect we deserve," Michigan guard Nik Stauskas said after his team survived an upset scare from Illinois on Friday. "We just finished winning the Big Ten and no one thinks we're going to win this tournament."
A pair of failures for Michigan and Wisconsin against Ohio State and Michigan State, respectively, might confuse the issue. But the sparkly track record for both might overcome even that, with just about every other contender for a top seed upended earlier. The Badgers and the Wolverines should end up in the same place, literally, in the NCAA tournament, with both slotted into a pod in Milwaukee. Who's first in line in the brackets should be determined over two more afternoons. "We know it's there," Michigan center Jordan Morgan said. "But we have to take care of business and that stuff takes care of itself."