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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Column: Badger sports: forever a bridesmaid, never the bride

It doesn’t get much better than this past weekend if you’re a Badger fan.

The hockey team swept No. 1 Minnesota, getting the late go-ahead goal from sophomore forward Nic Kerdiles in front of a sold out, record-setting crowd at the Kohl Center.

Then came Traevon Jackson’s last-second heroics against No. 9 Michigan State Sunday. Though AccuScore put the Badgers as 3.6-point favorites (a veritable shrug in terms of betting odds), many saw the win as an upset for unranked Wisconsin.

That’s the thing about Wisconsin. It doesn’t matter whether the Badgers began the season ranked No. 3 (hockey) or won all of their first 16 contests (basketball), UW is usually cast as the underdog in its own script.

For the last few years Wisconsin football has been very strong, going to the prestigious Rose Bowl three times while settling for a Capitol One Bowl berth in head coach Gary Andersen’s debut 2013 season.

None of the “experts” expected the Badgers to win in any of those games, and lo and behold their predictions came true. We even had this year’s Super Bowl competitors Russell Wilson and Montee Ball working together in 2011, and the underdog status still held.

Wisconsin, for all its virtues and big-game moments, can’t seem to get over the hump to transition from good to great. It doesn’t matter what sort of jersey the athletes are wearing, as long as it’s red and white.

Last year before the hockey team hit the road for the NCAA playoffs, analyst Barry Melrose stood in front of an ESPN camera and said he would be be surprised if the Badgers didn’t win the national championship.

Yet, when No. 8 Wisconsin took the ice in front of less than 5,000 fans to play No. 3 Massachusetts-Lowell, the Badgers became large underdogs to both the commentators and fans. The River Hawks crushed UW 6-1, ending Wisconsin’s playoff run before it even began.

The Badgers have all the pieces year-in and year-out to make national championship runs, but the puzzle pieces just never seem to fit together.

The 2012-’13 Badger basketball team went into the Big Ten Championship game against No. 3-seeded Ohio State ranked No. 4, just one spot lower. Once again, the underdogs, and once again, a loss.

That result gave Wisconsin a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, and for once the opener cast Wisconsin as a slight favorite against 12-seeded Mississippi.

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It all went downhill after halftime, when Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson decided to run his legs as fast as his mouth. Eleven points separated the 2013 Badgers from victory, not a small margin by NCAA tournament standards.

Heartbreak is something all too dear to Badger fans in recent years. UW is Katherine Heigl in “27 Dresses.” Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. And it’s made all the more infuriating because at any point in time, it could all change.

This past weekend was fun. It was a glimpse into what could be, what should be. But don’t base your future predictions on one three-day span.

When NCAA tournament time rolls around for both hockey and basketball, please don’t talk about how one weekend in February proves Wisconsin is an elite team. Because I’ll point to just as many weekends in March when the Badgers proved just the opposite.

What chance do the Badgers hockey and basketball teams have in their respective NCAA tournaments this year? Let Brett know what you think by emailing babachman@wisc.edu.

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