WASHINGTON — If the NCAA Tournament selection committee was trying to send the Wisconsin Badgers a message, Zak Showalter got it loud and clear.
“(I) questioned it a little bit,” the senior guard said of his team’s surprising 8 seed in the 2017 bracket — the worst seed ever granted a Badgers side with 25 or more wins going into the Big Dance. “There’s a lot of stuff that I can’t control. I just go out and play basketball and hopefully the rest takes care of itself.
“But we’ll have a chip on our shoulder, definitely, going into this week.”
Wisconsin’s placement in the 68-team field was even more damning in the context of its Big Ten peers. The Badgers finished the regular season tied for second in the league (12-6, 25-9 overall) and were the No. 2 seed at the league tourney in Washington, D.C.
Yet several squads below them in the standings — most notably Minnesota (11-7, 24-9) and Northwestern 10-8, 23-11) — received, on paper, kinder draws from the committee. The Gophers were slotted as a 5 seed in Milwaukee against Middle Tennessee State; the Wildcats landed as an 8 seed in Salt Lake City against Vanderbilt.
“Yeah, like I said, a lot of stuff I don’t understand,” Showalter said of Wisconsin’s peer programs. “It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me right now. (That’s for) higher-ups. I can’t control (it). I just go out and play basketball.”
Senior forward Nigel Hayes said the snub could serve as additional motivation for the Badgers as they take on No. 9 seed Virginia Tech (22-10) Thursday night in Buffalo.
“I guess there’s motivation in anything, so I’m sure we can try to do that,” Hayes said. “But our motivation should be (that how) we know we can be good and (how) we’re supposed to play. So we really should just focus on (that) because we just gave away our second championship this year.
“It’s really now or never. You’re literally only guaranteed one game from here on out.”