INDIANAPOLIS -- Does Wisconsin have at least one more surprise left?
If so, Saturday's the time to bring it out. The Badgers are one game away from a chance for the NCAA basketball championship, but to get there they'll have to beat top-seeded Michigan State, a Big Ten rival that already has beaten them three times this season.
''I'd rather be playing someone else. Without any reservation I can say that,'' Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said Wednesday.
''I don't know if it's an advantage or disadvantage. People have tried to make a case that we've lost three times, so that should make us better,'' he said. ''On the other hand, I don't know if we can beat them.''
Anything seems possible, however, in this topsy-turvy tournament.
Michigan State is the only No. 1 seed to reach the Final Four, and Wisconsin already has ousted another No. 1 in its second-round victory over Arizona. A semifinal appearance against the Spartans on Saturday will be Wisconsin's first in the Final Four since 1941, when the Badgers won the championship.
''We're somewhat surprised. I would be lying if I said this was a goal that was really prominent in our thinking,'' Bennett said of the eighth-seeded Badgers, who lost 13 games in the regular season. ''But we got our backs against the wall and developed a sense of urgency every time out. Maybe that was the blessing because we learned to concentrate and forget everything else. I don't know if that's possible at this stage of the game, but we're going to find out in a little while.''
Wisconsin was a bubble team that got into the tournament as an at-large selection. So was North Carolina, which also lost 13 games and received a No. 8 seed. The Tar Heels will play fifth-seeded Florida, which barely got by Butler in overtime in the first round, in the other semifinal at the RCA Dome.
''For us, being young, the more emotional experiences you go through, there's a tendency to bring you closer,'' Florida coach Billy Donovan said. ''We had some games go down to the wire, probably none more emotional than the Butler game. ... To go into the locker room and see guys crying, hugging, that brought us closer together. That game, that experience made us better.''
The Final Four teams have a combined 40 losses, the most since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The last champion with more than 10 losses was Kansas, with 11, in 1988.
''I think this will bother the NCAA a little bit, but you can throw the seedings right out the window,'' Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
''I said all along I was never concerned about having the No. 1 seed because I knew the road there would be very difficult. I just think this is going to become the norm, not the exception, because there are so many good teams. It's so difficult to play.''
North Carolina and Wisconsin are the lowest seeds to reach the Final Four since No. 11 LSU in 1986.
''There's a lot of parity in college basketball, a lot of very good coaches and players, and consequently a lot of very good teams,'' North Carolina's Bill Guthridge said. ''On a given day, when it's one-game-and-you're-out, a lot of top seeds are going to lose, and that's happened this year.
''I think it's good for college basketball. It's good for the game and good for interest in the tournament.''
North Carolina, which lost to Duke in the final game of the regular season and then to Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference, took out Missouri, Stanford, Tennessee and Tulsa to reach the Final Four. Florida lost to Auburn in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tourney and barely got past Butler in overtime in its NCAA opener. The Gators then beat Illinois, stunned Duke and outlasted Oklahoma State.
''I don't think them being a No. 8 seed is any indication what they've done this year,'' Donovan said of the Tar Heels. ''What's so impressive to me about Carolina is that their team has gotten better and better and he (Guthridge) has gotten them to play their best basketball at the time of the year you want them to do that.
''We realize we're going against one of most storied and tradition-rich programs in college basketball, and in looking at Carolina, one thing you realize is they're a great team regardless of seeding,'' said Donovan, who played on the Providence team that lost to Syracuse in the 1987 semifinals.
Wisconsin lost to Michigan State twice in the regular season and again in the Big Ten tourney. The Badgers then beat Fresno State, Arizona, LSU and Purdue, using their trademark pressing defense to hold each of them to no more than 60 points.
''The perception of us playing ugly has been kind of a buzzword for a few years,'' Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett said. ''When we lose, I guess it's really ugly. But I always felt working for good shots and playing team defense and taking care of the ball is the way you play. ... Maybe that eliminates some of the exciting plays, but if that's ugly, so be it.''
And if Wisconsin is a surprise underdog, so be that too.
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