Bo Ryan and his Badgers are smiling.
Well, at least his players are.
Yet again the Badgers will dance in March. A tradition that’s lasted for 16 years (13 led by Ryan). A tradition only six schools can top. A tradition that includes five conference championships with over 350 wins. A tradition that always ends in defeat.
Sixteen appearances; zero championships.
Bo’s titless-era is as bitter sweet as it gets. The always humble leader has taken an average Wisconsin program and turned it into a national powerhouse. He has been recognized nationally as one of the best. But as the cliché goes: in order to be the best, you must beat the best.
The only vacant space left on his near-flawless resume is a national championship. Of course at age 66, murmurs of him calling it quits spark, but the relentless Ryan always comes back.
Why not? Any close follower of Wisconsin Basketball knows that winning is fun. It’s been UW’s motto for the 2013-14 season, but frankly, it’s lasted over two decades.
There seems to be something special about the Badgers this year. Then again, isn’t that said every year? Well then the 2014 Badgers seem extra special. In the second time in school history they’ve been chosen as a second seed. They enter the tourney with the nation’s sixth best RPI ranking which basically calculates strength of schedule along with the winning percentages of both the Badgers and their opponents.
Wisconsin has been tested, and they’ve passed. Sure there were a few hiccups along the road, but where are the weaknesses? Saying they haven’t beaten anybody would just be ignorant. Ask Florida, the number one overall team in the NCAA how they fared in Madison.
Personally, my favorite statistic has to be the number of champions that have fallen victim to the Badgers. Along with the Gators, Saint Louis, Virginia, Green Bay, Michigan, Michigan State, and my own Milwaukee Panthers all won either their conference’s regular season or tournament, yet have been defeated by Wisconsin.
Of those victories four came outside of the Kohl Center. One even outside the country (St. Louis in Puerto Rico). This team is built to travel; but to make things easier the NCAA selection decided to give the Badgers a bit of a break.
Jet leg won’t be a factor come Thursday. Wisconsin’s opening week of action will be held in Milwaukee’s BMO Harris Bradley center, less than a hundred miles from home. A home court advantage doesn’t come around that often. Especially when their nearest possible opponent is 783 miles away.
That opponent will be the American University Eagles, winners of the Patriot League tourney. The Eagles, who are located in Washington DC, will be enjoying their third tournament appearance. Preseason polls predicted American to finish second-to-last in the conference, but fate chose otherwise and now the Eagles are all that’s left to represent the private institutions of The Patriot League.
If the Badgers move on, next would be the winner of Oregon and BYU. I hate to dig any further into the future, but beyond the field of 32 lies Nebraska, Baylor, Creighton and top seeded Arizona. All seemingly reasonable match ups.
The table is set for Bo to make his first run to the final four. A fabulous season has rewarded Wisconsin a gift wrapped opportunity for Arlington. Maybe after 13 appearances he has found the formula to climb to the top.
But to get to the top you must start from the bottom, Thursday, at 11:40 am.