Final(ly) Four

How do you know a sporting event had lasting impact?

You know when people are discussing the game at 1 a.m. after the game on Facebook.

After the 20-minute-long heart attack that was overtime, the Badgers beat Arizona 64–63 for their first Final Four berth since 2000, and fourth in the program’s history.

Facebook was where, about four hours before that, I posted, after a 28–25 first half, that the first team that got to 60 would win. I was right, more right about that than whether UW would get that far specifically, or my brackets generally. (I was 1 for 4 in Final Four picks, getting only Florida correct.)

Let’s give the Wisconsin State Journal’s Tom Oates the first word:

After 13 years of seeing their NCAA tournament journey halted short of its destination, the Badgers looked like they might need some help from above — or from below or, quite frankly, from anywhere they could get it — to find their way back to college basketball’s promised land for the first time since 2000.

For a while, there were signs that second-seeded UW might be getting some assistance as it prepared for its Elite Eight matchup against top-seeded Arizona and its legion of raucous fans on Saturday night at the Honda Center.

It certainly looked like an act of God when, the night before the game, an earthquake measuring 5.1 on the Richter Scale hit the Anaheim area. Was that a sign that they were going to shake up the brackets with an upset of the Wildcats?

There was also the specter of UW coach Bo Ryan’s late father somewhere up there pulling a few strings to help his son get a monkey off his back and reach a Final Four for the first time on what would have been Butch Ryan’s 90th birthday.

Finally, there was Arizona’s record in Elite Eight games at the Honda Center. The Wildcats were 0-3 in such games since the program’s ascension as a national power in the 1980s.

But just when it looked like someone was lending a hand, the truth came out. UW didn’t need the help. In a classic struggle that will be remembered more for its ferocity than its skill, the Badgers had the talent, the tenacity and the big man — center Frank Kaminsky — to outlast the Wildcats 64-63 in overtime.

UW survived a shaky first half and a late replay review that went against it, then its surprisingly tough defense forced Wildcats guard Nick Johnson to use up so much time he couldn’t even get off an attempt at a game-winning shot before the final buzzer sounded. Once it went off, it was a signal that Ryan and the Badgers had earned a long-coveted trip to the Final Four in the Dallas suburb of Arlington, Texas.

“This means the world to all of us,” forward Sam Dekker said. “This is what we come here for. We told each other at the beginning of the year, ‘We can go to Dallas. We’ve got the team to do it.’ We just bought in and did this together. It doesn’t matter who gets the shot, it doesn’t matter who plays well, as long as we get a W. And that’s what happened.”

The Badgers’ previous Final Four berth, in 2000, defies explanation 14 years later. This year’s team is not a fluke, according to Jason King:

Wisconsin will have one of the more impressive resumes of any team in the Final Four. The Badgers finished second in the Big Ten standings and defeated Virginia, a No. 1 seed in this year’s tournament, in nonconference play along with NCAA tournament teams Michigan State, Michigan, Saint Louis and Florida.

USA Today’s Chris Korman might as well self-plagiarize his Friday story …

Above a tournament that has been defined by a veteran-laden, calculated Wichita State team losing to a young, instinctive Kentucky team, there hovers this idea that somehow the soul of college basketball is at stake.

Bob Knight gave voice to a group of fans tired of the transience caused by the one-and-done rule. College basketball is sloppy now, they say. The players lack passion and sophistication. Fundamentals are ignored. The sport is suffering.

As USA TODAY Sports’ Nancy Armour points out, that argument is hard to listen to. This is the NCAA tournament the NCAA has built. Only it can change the system.

But if you’re intent on finding a team — and a coach — committed to using four-year players employed in a traditional — and beautiful, when it works — system, then here’s Bo Ryan.

… because everything Korman wrote before Saturday’s regional final applies all this week, including the Kentucky reference.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Bob Wolfley passes on postgame commentary:

Before the Badgers beat the Wildcats Saturday night to advance to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament, Turner/CBS analyst Charles Barkley said in the pre-game show he thought UW would win.

After the telecast he upped the ante.

“They are really good,” Barkley said. “(Frank) Kaminsky was fantastic and they’ve got a great leader in Bo Ryan. They’re better than I thought they were.”

Barkley said the victory will “free them up mentally” for the Final Four.

“They’ve never been to the Final Four and that was a knock against coach Ryan,” Barkley said. “I think they are going to feel the least amount of pressure.”

Later in the show he said: “That team would beat the Bucks.”

Said Kenny Smith: “Wisconsin has the ability to play multiple ways. That’s one of the biggest keys to winning in the tournament. You’re going to play some games in the 50s and some games in 80s. Can you adapt to that? Wisconsin is one of the better teams that are able to do that with their ability to shoot the three and get the ball inside. They also have one guy who can do both in Kaminsky. The only thing that can hold them back if they get too deliberate in the Final Four and forget how they got there.”

Smith explains in that last paragraph Wisconsin’s problems in previous NCAA tournaments and how this team is different than Ryan’s other UW teams. UW has now beaten two teams that wanted to run, Oregon and Baylor. The Badgers also beat the number one team in defensive efficiency in winning Saturday.

The Badgers also appear to have a player who is, at least right now, impossible to defend, center Frank Kaminsky, who scored 19 against Baylor and 28 Saturday night. Anytime you have players who have more skills than their position usually features (for instance, three-point-shooting centers), that is a nightmare for opposing coaches.

The other thing this team has is a seeming inability to get rattled by misfortune on the floor. UW trailed Oregon by 12 at the half nine days ago, and could have been down farther than that. UW trailed Arizona by three at the half Saturday night, and again could have been down farther than that. The replayed call reversal on the out-of-bounds call with 2.3 seconds left was, if TBS’ description of the NCAA replay rules is accurate, the wrong call. If after watching every replay TBS offered, viewers could not tell who touched the ball last, the officials should not have reversed the call. And yet UW defended the last 2.3 seconds so well that the last shot wouldn’t have counted even if it had gone in because the clock ran out.

By the way: While the officials were trying to determine what could not be determined, they missed what happened before Sam Dekker’s inbounding pass:

No, defenders are not allowed to stand out of bounds to contest inbounds passes.


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