Now that February is almost upon us, it is only one short month until the most exciting event in college sports: March Madness. With the Badgers owning a surprising No. 16 ranking, and currently only second to Michigan State in the Big Ten standings, I started to wonder how Wisconsin might fare in this year's Big Dance. Even with Wisconsin's impressive 16-5 record, it didn't take long for me to come up with an answer: at best, a win or two.
For a team coming into the season projected to finish eighth in the Big Ten, two wins in the NCAA Tournament would seem like a dream run. Not to me, though. It's not that I wouldn't be happy if the Badgers managed a win or two, but other than 2000 and 2005, every postseason ends the same way—at best, a win or two.
Just look at their recent history. Although Wisconsin has made the Dance every year since 1999, it has only advanced to the Sweet 16 four times in that period. Their ineptness in the NCAA Tournament is hard to believe considering they have an incredible overall record of 193-73 under Bo Ryan, but just an 11-8 tally in the postseason during the same span. It doesn't matter how many wins they have or who they beat during the regular season, the Badgers typically end up tripping over their own feet at the Big Dance. So what do I ask of this year's team? Call me greedy, but I want a trip to the Elite Eight. Having not made it past the Sweet Sixteen since 2005 it's about time Wisconsin made some noise in the postseason. In addition, the Badgers are due for an Elite Eight appearance, since their last two showings, 2000 and 2005, happened five years apart. Hopefully, destiny will take over and provide Trevon Hughes with some consistent support to carry the Badgers that far.
But Wisconsin doesn't have much more than destiny on its side to help it make a deep run in the tournament. Poor and inconsistent play in recent games by everybody other than Hughes shouldn't give fans reason to believe this team can break people's brackets. Had it not been for Rob Wilson stepping up against Michigan after Jordan Taylor and Jason Bohannon went a combined 1-for-14, the Badgers would have a loss against a drastically underachieving Big Ten opponent. The very next game Taylor was ice cold once again.
After not hitting a shot since what seemed like last year, he went on a tear and scored 18 of the team's final 24 points to save Wisconsin from an embarrassing home defeat to Penn State, who is 0-8 in the Big Ten. Streaky play won't work against top teams, folks.
To be fair, I don't want to take anything away from what the team has accomplished this year. Beating both Arizona and Maryland in Hawaii was unexpected, and ousting undefeated and then-No. 4 Purdue was a feat in itself, but the toppling of No. 6 Duke to seal the Big Ten's first ever win in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge? The first word that comes to mind is ""historic,"" and anyone lucky enough to have stormed the court will tell fellow Badgers about that experience for years. Thus far, it's turned out to be a season of brilliant moments for Wisconsin and its fans.
And therein lies the problem for me: The regular season is where the Badgers shine. Hughes' layup to upset Florida State last year was thrilling, but try to recall another memorable NCAA Tournament moment in the past couple of years. How about being named a No. 3 seed in the 2008 tournament only to lose to No. 10 seed Davidson in the Sweet 16 by 17? Or maybe 2007, when the Badgers were a second seed and lost to seventh seed UNLV in the second round? In my opinion, the remarkable seasons Wisconsin has put up have been diminished because it was unable to prove anything in the NCAA Tournament.
The regular season wins are great and all, but triumphs in March are what bring basketball immortality—just ask George Mason. Earning a trip to the Elite Eight would transform this already fantastic season into something memorable. Unfortunately, I feel it will end up like many recent Dances with, at best, a win or two. I'd love for them to prove me wrong.
Think the Badgers should still be proud of their regular season performances? E-mail Jack at email@example.com.