Badgers going steady

Gerry Ahern
Yahoo! Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – They're not flashy, but they are fundamentally sound.

They don't wow you, they just win.

They're a team state legend Vince Lombardi would love, the Wisconsin Badgers, and they are the Big Ten tournament champions after dismantling Illinois 61-48 Sunday at Conseco Fieldhouse.

The Badgers, 29-4 and the conference's regular-season champions, wound up with the No. 3 seed in the NCAA's Midwest region after collecting their 10th consecutive victory in typical, methodical fashion.

Brian Butch led the way with 12 points, knocking down a pair of three-pointers. Marcus Landry, the tournament MVP, had 10 points and six rebounds. Michael Flowers had nine points, all on threes, and four rebounds.

"What a balanced effort," coach Bo Ryan said.

This is not a team of stars but of lunch-pail players who shoot accurately, play defense, rebound, make their free throws and keep their mouths shut. They weren't worried about being "snubbed" with a No. 3 seed even though they won their league and its postseason tournament.

"I'm just proud of my teammates," Landry said. "We've achieved all the goals that we've set up to this point."

In a word, unselfish.

Ryan isn't one to worry about the "97,000 things" the tournament selection committee sorts through to determine a team's bracket fate. He said he was just fine with the Badgers' placement.

"I think anywhere between a one and a four, those are all pretty good teams," Ryan said. "It's kind of hard to differentiate. … I'm glad we're still playing."

The Badgers can play from ahead, as they did in wearing down the weary, upstart, 10th-seeded Illini on Sunday. They can come from behind, as they did in a 65-63 semifinal win over Michigan State on Saturday, recovering from a 12-point hole.

They show no signs of panic under Ryan, one of the best in college basketball, and certainly the best in this league.

And their defense never rests, not even when the issue has been decided.

"I'm still mad about the three they hit at the end of the game," Ryan said about a meaningless shot Illinois made shortly before time expired Sunday. "I got on the guys in the locker room afterward for leaving him open.

"These guys take pride in what they do. It's not just in the post, not just on the perimeter. It's not any one thing. This team has adhered to the rules better over the past 2½ months than any team that I have coached. If we keep doing those things, we can keep playing."

How far will they go in the dance?

They open with a first-round game against Cal State Fullerton in Omaha, Neb., on Thursday. Next up, should the draw hold, is USC and fab freshman O.J. Mayo. Should they meet that challenge, the Georgetown Hoyas likely would be next. Then, presumably, No. 1 seed Kansas for a berth in the Final Four.

It's a tough region to be sure.

Big Ten bashers can scoff, but none of those teams has shown the composure down the stretch of these steady Badgers.

When they shoot as well as they did against the Illini (49 percent from the field, 50 percent from three-point territory), they are lethal.

"It's all about how you get back in the (shooting) rhythm," Landry said. "That's pound the ball in the post. Get it in to the post, kick it out and hit those high-percentage shots."

Call it calculated, call it methodical. Call them boring.

Call them champions.

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