Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sweet but not Elite

The methodical first-round victory over Cal State-Fullerton was an unremarkable feat. The second-round scorching of Michael Beasley and Kansas State raised the hopes and expectations of Badger fans. And then Wisconsin ran into Stephen Curry and his friends from Davidson, and the season ended abruptly in Detroit.

What more can you say? Sports fans are greedy; they always want more. At the beginning of the season, I was prepared for a rebuilding year -- losing Alando Tucker and Kam Taylor, you had to expect a sub-par performance. All I was hoping for was securing that tenth straight NCAA tournament bid and waiting for next year, when we would unseat Michigan State or Indiana -- you know, whoever won the Big Ten title. Then, as the Badgers continued to win, I changed my mind: anything less than a Sweet Sixteen would be a disappointment for this cohesive group of genuine team players. Finally, as UW started to accumulate hardware, I thought to myself, "You know, with a break or two, this team could be in the Final Four ... or even ..."

But it was not to be. Stephen Curry and his third straight 30+ point game saw to that. And so we were able to watch Kansas hold off feisty Davidson, move on to the #1 seed-stocked Final Four, and eventually best Memphis, dragging the Tigers down by the throat after a couple of -- who could've seen that coming? -- missed free throws.

The point: this was an excellent season of Wisconsin basketball. Over 30 wins again, survival till the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, and hardware galore. However, the monkey on Bo Ryan's back is getting bigger: why do Wisconsin's conference championship teams make such abbreviated postseason runs? It's a question we'll need to deal with eventually; nobody knows how many conference titles you've won as long as you're bowing out against the likes of Davidson and UNLV. Extended runs in the Big Dance is what is keeping this program from getting to the next level. Frankly, until the Badgers make it to back-to-back Sweet Sixteens or further, the "No Respect!" that we hear so much about is richly deserved.