Now that the regular season and conference tournaments have concluded, and office copiers everywhere are humming with NCAA bracket printouts, it is time once again for the Madness of March. In the still sub zero world of the country known as the Midwest, and here in Wisconsin in particular, the local basketball fans are thrilled with what lies ahead in the next few days. You could not have asked your local asphalt paving company to lay down a smoother road to the Sweet Sixteen. No, in a world where potholes are a dime a dozen, the Badgers have one clearly paved route ahead to Anaheim, California.
Bo Ryan's 2013-14 Badgers (26-7), 16-0 out of the gate and at one time as revered as highly as 4th in the nation, find themselves a short 75 minute drive down interstate 94 to Milwaukee for a Thursday morning matchup with American University, Patriot League conference champs. Some pundits have not surprisingly picked American to stun Wisconsin, given the fact that their pass first, shoot later, Princeton style offense should befuddle the Badgers, and deal them an earlier than expected exit from the Big Dance much like Cornell, Davidson and Mississippi have done in previous years. This years Ryan express, however, has more firepower than previous teams, and the smell of bratwurst simmering in the concession stands should be enough to get Wisky into a Saturday matchup with either BYU or Oregon.
How BYU even got in the tournament is anyone's guess (too bad UWGB didn't take their spot), so the feeling here is it looks like the Ducks and the Badgers in a 7 versus 2 showdown in Milwaukee for a trip to the Sweet 16. Given the fact that the crowd will be heavily tilted in Wisconsin's favor, and also considering that beer is served at the Bradley Center, Ryan and company should be able to hitch up their 28-7 wagon and advance to the Western quarterfinals in Anaheim.
Once there the logic is a probable rematch with Creighton, with the Bluejays having last disposed of the Badgers in a 2012 holiday tournament in Las Vegas. Creighton won, 84-74, led, as always, by Doug McDermott (30 points), Ethan Wragge (17 points) and Austin Chatman (14 points). The Bluejays, despite trailing 39-38 at the half, had no trouble dissecting the Badgers D all night, even with a more stout interior defense for Wisconsin, led by the since departed Jared Bergeren, in place that year.
If such a contest materializes again, and given the fact the Badgers Achilles heel all year has been yielding a sieve-like path to the rim against any team with penetrating guard, it would appear that this will be the end of another magical season for Ryan and his lone senior, Ben Brust. Even though Creighton struggles against zones, Ryan will never play one, so the odds of another entertaining, up and down game with Creighton and its mega-star McDermott, should ultimately prevail and become the demise of this overachieving bunch from Madison.
But let's just sit back and let it play out shall we? As I mentioned in a previous post, the holiday season is here, beginning promptly at 11:40am this Thursday. For the Badgers, the road to Jerry's palace in Texas will are paved, at least out of the gate, as smooth as the seams on an official 2014 NCAA tournament basketball...allegedly.
Thus, if Ryan's posse does indeed escape the Wild Wild West with victories in potential showdowns against the likes of Creighton, SDSU or #1 seed Arizona, it will be on to the Promised Land of the Final Four for only the second time in school history, the last under Dick Bennett in 2000. Stranger things have happened, that's why it's called March Madness. This year it's already paved with good intentions for Wisconsin.
And For What