Win keeps Badgers' hopes afloat

Wisconsin's 1-0 win over Milwaukee last night was an important one for the Badgers in terms of ending the regular season on a high note but, more importantly, it was vital to keeping alive their hopes of an NCAA tournament berth.

The Badgers have plenty of positives on their resume -- No. 33 RPI, an outstanding strength-of-schedule, wins against Ohio State and Michigan State, signature results away from home against Northwestern and UC Santa Barbara, etc. -- but there is one glaring issue with UW's at-large candidacy: its overall record.

At 7-8-2 overall after Thursday's 1-0 win over the Panthers, Wisconsin comes up short of the requirement that a team must possess an overall record of .500 or better to be eligible for at-large selection to the tournament.

That means, at a minimum, UW must win its first-round game Thursday in Bloomington and then earn a draw in the semifinals to stand at 8-8-3. The only problem with that scenario is that, if they emerged from the draw as the team that advanced on penalty kicks, a loss in the championship match would drop them back below .500 at 8-9-3.
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A win in the first round and another win in the semis would guarantee the Badgers at least a .500 record regardless of the outcome of the championship match.

Doing so would require UW to make a little history, as the Badgers haven't won an opening-round game in the Big Ten tournament since 2003. In fact, they have advanced past the first day of competition just three times since 1995 and have never played in the title match.

Wisconsin is 1-9-1 in its last 10 Big Ten tournament appearances.

Still, if the Badgers can emerge from the Big Ten tourney with a level record, their RPI numbers certainly make them a candidate for one of the 27 at-large spots included in the 48-team NCAA tourament field.

Of course, they can eliminate all doubt by winning the tournament title to grab the Big Ten's automatic NCAA bid.

That is certainly possible, as this year's league tournament promises to be a wide-open affair. There is something at stake for all seven teams in Bloomington next week, and it promises to be a great show.

ON WISCONSIN