MILWAUKEE -- Wisconsin players found themselves in a slightly awkward place Wednesday at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, occupying the locker room belonging to their in-state rival, Marquette.
Splashed across the gold-and-blue walls were names, numbers and pictures illustrating Marquette's history. Not surprisingly, many of the mementos pointed to Marquette's Final Four team in 2003, led by Dwyane Wade.
Marquette basketball is still known, at least among younger fans, for that Final Four run. Wisconsin basketball is known for incredible consistency, home-court dominance, an ability to reload and success in the Big Ten, where coach Bo Ryan has the best winning percentage (.703) in league history. The Badgers have finished in the top four in the league in each of Ryan's 13 seasons as coach.
But Wisconsin also is known for bowing out early in the NCAA tournament. The Badgers have qualified in each of the past 16 seasons, the fourth-longest active streak behind Kansas (25), Duke (19) and Michigan State (17) and the seventh-longest streak of all time.
Since a Final Four run in 2000, however, the Badgers have made it past the Sweet 16 just once, in 2005. Their tournament has ended on the first weekend seven times under Ryan, including last year, when they lost to Ole Miss in the round of 64.
"We've been known to make it to the tournament, and we've been known to go pretty much to the Sweet 16," junior guard Traevon Jackson said. "We've always said, 'Why can't we do things that haven't been done here?'"
Jackson and his teammates begin their quest Thursday as a No. 2 seed as they take on No. 15 seed American. Wisconsin has been a top-five seed in seven of the past eight seasons, but it hasn't been a 2-seed since 2007, when it lost to UNLV in the second round.
The Badgers received a favorable draw in the West Region, considered by many to be wide open. A nice contingent of Wisconsin fans showed up for Wednesday's open practice, and many more will be in the stands Thursday.
"Being a senior, I want to go as far as possible," guard Ben Brust said. "You've got to have that sense of urgency every possession. It can't just be thinking about how to get there."
Brust has shared the pros and cons of his tournament experience with younger players such as freshman Nigel Hayes, who will make his March Madness debut Thursday.
All season, Badgers players have heard about how this is a different Wisconsin team, equipped with more scoring options and, at times, uncharacteristically poor defense. But the Badgers hope the real difference is a longer stay in the tournament.
"They only remember the past things you've done," forward Sam Dekker said. "If we go out and lose a game in this tournament, they're always going to remember that. As it should be. They're not going to remember the season we had.
"So we just have to be ready."