Maybe they were out all night playing craps in the casinos. Or maybe they each had five midterms last week and couldn’t practice at all. Perhaps they all had man-crushes on Davidson’s Stephen Curry, or maybe they were afraid of possibly facing Kansas.
All these crazy ideas were circling in my head as I walked around downtown Detroit Friday night in utter disbelief, looking for the nearest blackjack table at which I could feed my newfound depression.
I just couldn’t figure it out. How did that just happen? How did the Badgers just get embarrassed by a team from the Southern Conference? I drove eight hours for that?
The matchup seemed perfect. Michael Flowers — the best shutdown defender I’ve ever witnessed in person — was going to frustrate Curry, much like he did with Michigan State sharpshooter Drew Neitzel, and the Badgers were going to coast into the Elite 8. I was sure of it.
As I continued my meander through Motown, it finally hit me: The better team won Friday night. Davidson was no lucky Cinderella team, either. I’m convinced the Wildcats would beat the Badgers eight times out of 10. And the way they played Friday night, they would have beaten any team in the country.
Yup, I said it: Any. Team. UNC, UCLA and Memphis included.
Oh, and Neitzel doesn’t even belong in the same sentence as Curry. The hype is real; the kid can flat-out play. It’s a joke that zero ACC schools offered him a scholarship out of high school. He has yet to shave, but he still played like His Airness himself Friday night. Babyface was simply unstoppable.
I’m not sure if the Badgers didn’t believe Curry was as good as advertised or what, but they looked completely unprepared to at least attempt to slow him down (let alone play any sort of organized offense in the second half, but that’s a completely separate issue). Curry ran off double and triple screens, no one hedged to remotely help Flowers recover, and the son of former NBA guard Dell dropped 33, while the second-half score read: Curry 22, Wisconsin 20.
When the fat lady finally sang, Davidson head coach Bob McKillop subbed Curry out of the game, to which he received a well-deserved standing ovation from the Wildcat faithful.
The two-inch Badger fan standing on my left shoulder was pouting and crying, but his counterpart on my right — the objective basketball fan — was standing and clapping along with the fans who made the free trip from North Carolina. It was the most dominant basketball performance I’ve ever seen live. I just stood there, arms folded, in complete awe.
There’s no way around it. Friday night sucked. The Badgers played with no heart, they were humiliated on national television, and now all the chants of “overrated” still ringing in my head seem justified.
The final chapter of a storybook season ended on a note Badger Nation can only hope to one day forget. But let’s not forget one thing: It was still that, a storybook season.
Last fall, the expectations surrounding Bo’s bunch were mediocre at best. They lost Kammron Taylor and Alando Tucker to graduation. The 2007-08 season could never measure up to the ‘06-07 squad, right?
Wrong. It did. And then some.
Prior to Friday, a supposed team made up of a disappointing former McDonald’s All-American, a kid from South Dakota who can’t jump or shoot, an undersized power forward, another near-seven-footer who can barely get out of his own way, an inexperienced point guard, a kid from Iowa who can do nothing but shoot 3-pointers and a defensive specialist with a below-average jump shot proved the naysayers wrong.
They gelled, they improved, they matured, they improved again, and they began to believe in both themselves and in Bo Ryan’s winning ways.
And then, all of a sudden, they were outright Big Ten Champs. And then they won the conference tournament. And then they were in the Sweet 16, a feat even the No. 1 nationally ranked Badgers of ‘06-07 couldn’t accomplish.
In October, had someone told you that come March, all three of those things would be on this Badger team’s r�sum�, wouldn’t you have laughed?
All four of their losses were against tournament teams; they lost to one Big Ten team (Purdue) all season, and they beat Texas on the road.
All year they were too slow and not talented enough. Friday night it finally came back to bite them.
But since their Jan. 2 upset over the Longhorns, this Badger team played with heart and found ways to win. It wasn’t always pretty (i.e., Brian Butch’s bank three in Bloomington), but they kept miraculously getting the job done somehow.
On paper, this team was probably a tournament bubble team at best. But Ryan transformed a roster full of nice ball players into top 10 winners, something most coaches could never dream of doing.
Yeah, the word “Davidson” will always leave a sour taste in all Badger fans’ mouths. Had the Badgers played well, maybe it would have been OK. Had Curry hit a miracle buzzer-beater in a well-played game, then we would be left to shake our heads and applaud.
But that didn’t happen. Wisconsin looked like a JV team Friday. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Nonetheless, they did the unthinkable this season. They will forever be 2007-08 Big Ten Champs. And no one can ever take that from them.
Derek is a sophomore majoring in economics. Was the Badgers’ season a bust? Send him your thoughts at [email protected]