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Thursday, March 22, 2012
Badgers, Orange excited to play at Garden

By Jack McCluskey

BOSTON -- There’s something different about TD Garden this week.

The court is ringed by black, the logo at center court is a blue circle with white lettering. The free throw arc is blue, and the paint isn’t painted -- just plain hardwood.

And if you look up, to see what history hangs there, the only pieces of cloth you’ll see are those honoring the country (the American flag), its military (the POW/MIA flag) and Canada.

Bo Ryan
Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan kept his focus on his Badgers' practice Wednesday.
While the NCAA tournament East Regional is in Boston, the 23 championship banners belonging to the Garden’s traditional tenants (17 for the Celtics, six for the Bruins) -- as well as the banners full of retired numbers, and those for the Beanpot -- will hang elsewhere.

Though that may be disconcerting for regular visitors, it won’t detract from the experience for the players and coaches competing in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night.

Some of them didn’t even notice the banners were gone.

“I didn’t look above the basketball court, to be honest with you,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said, drawing laughs from the gathered reporters.

Ryan’s attention during the open practice was on preparing his No. 4 seed Badgers for the test they face in No. 1 seed Syracuse, not on what was or wasn’t in the rafters.

“We only get 50 minutes, so we tried to take advantage of every minute we were out there on the court,” he said.

Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor is a little young to know much about the Celtics’ storied past. But the 21-year-old said he’s a big fan of Magic Johnson, and enjoys watching Magic’s historic battles with Larry Bird on ESPN Classic.

Ohio State big man Jared Sullinger said it will be “very cool” to play in the Garden, citing “all the history that surrounds this arena and all the legends that played in this arena.”

And Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine showed a sharp basketball acumen in his session with the media.

“It’s an honor to be here, to play in an arena like this,” he said. “I don’t think this is the arena where Larry Bird played at, is it?”

Bird, of course, retired after the 1991-92 season, and the new Garden didn’t open until 1995.

Jim Boeheim
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he's a Celtics fan (and feigned ignorance of BC).
“It don’t matter,” Jardine said. “We know this is an NBA venue, and it’s always great to play on an NBA floor. The tradition here in Boston is great, and I’m just happy to be a part of something like this.”

Orange coach Jim Boeheim is familiar with Boston from all the visits his team made to Boston College to play the Eagles, back when BC was in the Big East.

“I’ve tried to block all those out of my mind,” Boeheim joked. “I’ll bring them back some day. We had great games here in Boston.”

Asked about whether the history of the Garden added anything to the game his team will play Thursday night, Boeheim was honest.

“I’ve always been a Celtics fan, going way back, so it’s a great basketball city, unbelievable tradition,” he said. “But that’s really more of a pro type thing. I love basketball -- I love pro and college. But for college, [the tradition’s] not as much of a factor.”

Wisconsin’s Ryan grew up in Chester, Pa., not far from Philadelphia. On Wednesday, he said one of the great thrills of his career was being a member of the committee selecting the Bob Cousy award, because during his childhood he saw so much of Cousy on TV.

But that respect for Cousy doesn’t mean Ryan was a Celtics fan.

“Well, having grown up in the Philadelphia area, Boston was always the other guys,” he said. “But to be here and have a chance to play in this facility in a town that appreciates basketball in an area that appreciates basketball like this, it’s quite an honor.”

The veteran coach paused a beat, then played to the audience a little bit.

“I know some of you wanted Harvard,” he said, referring to the No. 12 seeded Crimson -- who lost in the second round in the Albuquerque group Wisconsin won to advance to Boston -- with a smile, “but we’re here.”

And Thursday night the Badgers will be one of four teams to take the court, absent the familiar green and gold of the Garden’s usual home teams, attempting to make some history of their own.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.