The irony for fans of basketball in Wisconsin of this summer-like weekend is that many didn’t get to enjoy much of the summer-like weather.
Unless, that is, they had a portable TV or were able to watch the cornucopia of basketball on a laptop or mobile device. (Of course, the weather was still nice enough Sunday night after all the hoop-la ended to write a blog on his laptop sitting outside … until his meowing cat kept interrupting him and his laptop ran out of battery.)
Saturday was the technically-still-winter version of the weekends this past fall when the Badgers were marching toward the Big Ten football title and the Packers were headed toward the best record in the NFL. (Which prompted a UW Marching Band alumnus to describe things appropriately: “Fear the beer!”) To wit:
- The Badgers beat Vanderbilt 60–57 to clinch their second consecutive Sweet 16 slot, which has never happened before in program history.
- Marquette beat Murray State 62–53 to accompany Bucky in the Sweet 16.
- UW–Green Bay, having been royally screwed by the NCAA women’s basketball tournament selection committee, had the last laugh by beating Iowa State 71–57 in Ames in the first round of the women’s tournament.
- UW–Whitewater beat Cabrini 63–60 won the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament.
- And on a non-basketball note, St. Norbert beat Oswego State 4–1 to win the NCAA Division III men’s hockey tournament.
Even no-longer-Wisconsinites did well. Indiana, coached by former Marquette coach Tom Crean, defeated Virginia Commonwealth, coached by Oregon native Shaka Smart. Milwaukee native Rick Majerus’ Saint Louis won one game before losing Sunday.
Proving that the weekend wasn’t perfect, Wisconsin lost the NCAA Division I women’s hockey tournament to Minnesota 4–2 Sunday afternoon, the second time UW lost the national championship after having one of its players, defenseman Brianna Decker, win the Patty Kazmeier Award as the nation’s best college women’s hockey playe.. On the other hand, the Milwaukee Wave, the best Wisconsin professional team no one’s heard of, beat Baltimore 12–10 in overtime to win the Major Indoor Soccer League title.
Almost lost in the college March Madness was the high school March Madness, the WIAA boys’ basketball tournament. The highlight of Championship Saturday was the finish of the Division 5 championship between Sheboygan Lutheran and Racine Lutheran:
After the awarding of the gold trophy, Dekker was named the state’s Mr. Basketball, an award determined before state. It’s a good think Dekker appears to like playing at the Kohl Center, since he’ll playing for the at-least-sweet-16 Badgers next season.
So how are my brackets so far? Well …
In the UW alumni band bracket, I have all four East Region teams (#1 Syracuse, #2 Ohio State, #4 Wisconsin and #6 Cincinnati), two of the South Region teams (#1 Syracuse and #3 Baylor), two of the Midwest Regiona teams (#1 North Carolina and #2 Kansas), and one West Region team (#1 Ohio State) left. All four Final Four teams remain, which is good.
In the Efficiency bracket, I have all four East teams, three Midwest teams (North Carolina, Kansas and #13 Ohio), and one each from the South (Kentucky) and West (Michigan State). I picked one 15-over-2 upset right (Lehigh over Duke), but not the other (Norfolk State over Missouri), which is why I’m missing one Final Four team.
The thrill of still having all four Final Four teams in one pool and three in the other, part of getting nine of the Sweet 16 correct (which means you picked at least 18 games correctly) is moderated by the fact that nine of 16 is a slightly better ratio than could be expected from flipping a coin 16 times. Which is why I wait until after the games to check my brackets, because the fire of a thrilling game is drowned by having the team you picked lose, if you take the brackets too seriously. (I’m tied for 22nd out of 40 with the Efficiency bracket, and I have 38 out of a possible 64 points in 1590624.)
The reality of won-or-done tournaments, of course, is that ecstasy can be replaced by agony one game later. UWGB plays Kentucky Monday at 8:45 p.m. on ESPN2. Wisconsin plays number-one-seed Syracuse in Boston Thursday at 6:15 p.m., with the great Verne Lundquist and Bill “Onions!” Raftery calling the game for CBS. Marquette plays seventh-seed Florida Thursday at 9:17 p.m., with Wisconsin native Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller and Len Elmore on the call for TBS.
Yes, Wisconsin has made the NCAAs every year since 1997 and every year in coach Bo Ryan’s UW career. But this is an anomaly in UW basketball history; the 1947–94 desert of tournament appearances is more normal, and many of those tournament seasons featured a stay so brief one wondered why one bothered. That’s why, as with football this past fall, Badger fans need to appreciate what’s happening right now.