After watching my final Wisconsin basketball game as a student Sunday, I cannot help but feel a sour taste in my mouth. This bitter flavor is not just a product of Cornell blowing by the Badgers in the NCAA Tournament; it stems from season after season of Wisconsin coming up short in the postseason far more often than it should.
When the Badgers were announced as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament, it marked the third time they received a top-four seed in the last three years. Yet Wisconsin has only one Sweet Sixteen appearance to show for it.
When the Badgers fell to Cornell, it meant they had been knocked out by a team in the Mountain West, the Atlantic 10, the Southern Conference and the Ivy League in the last four years.
And after falling in a lopsided contest, it marked the second time in three years UW has been eliminated by 15 points or more.
With the exception of No. 5-seed Florida State last season, Wisconsin has not beaten a team seeded higher than No. 13 in the last four years.
I realize there are some good mid-major squads out there, but there is a very unsatisfying sentiment when the Badgers consistently fall to teams such as these. I can live with Wisconsin falling to a talented Kentucky team in the Sweet Sixteen (even though I would have liked Wisconsin's chances), but when the Badgers lose to mid-majors consistently, even though these are quality teams, it just doesn't sit well.
Senior students who have been following Wisconsin for the last four years should be frustrated with when and how the Badgers are dropping out of the NCAA Tournament each year.
After seasons ending in disappointment, coaches, players, fans and the media attempt to point to the positives. After falling to Cornell, head coach Bo Ryan talked about how UW handled a tough schedule well and beat Duke. In 2008 Wisconsin won the Big Ten regular season championship, and after losing to UNLV in 2007, Ryan discussed how the overall product was still impressive, with Wisconsin having achieved a No. 1 ranking in the regular season.
I don't intend to take too much away from these achievements, but they are harped on too heavily. These are nice moments, memories players and fans can cherish. But they do not substitute for success in the NCAAs, which is by far the most important part of any team's season.
Do you think Duke cares right now that it lost to Wisconsin as it prepares for the Sweet Sixteen? Do you think Kansas is relishing its regular-season No. 1 ranking right now after losing to Northern Iowa Saturday? Do you think Florida cared about not winning the regular-season SEC Championship when it was cutting down the nets after beating UCLA for the NCAA title?
Comparing Wisconsin to teams like these may seem unfair. But remember, Wisconsin has been ranked in the top-20 consistently over the last four years (with perhaps the exception of last season) in a league with 347 schools. UW may not be on the highest plane of college basketball with Duke and Kansas, but it is right there, and the standard to judge the Badgers should fit that.
When I look back at this Wisconsin team and how I followed them as a student, I'll have some positives to draw on, but they do not come close to appeasing my expectations. Wisconsin is a very good basketball program, and it should not have to be defined by regular-season accomplishments. The Badgers can do better in the NCAAs. But until they do, I'll still have this empty feeling.
Can you take solace in Wisconsin's solid regular season or are you frustrated too? E-mail Scott at email@example.com.