Last Monday was arguably the most joyful Monday in University of Wisconsin history. The 65-degree weather certainly helped, but undoubtedly the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, advancing through the West Regional of the NCAA tournament and into the Final Four, was the reason for the exuberant faces of many UW students.
It was the reason why, in the first two minutes of my Monday morning lecture, that 400 people cheered when the professor simply said two words: “Final Four.”
Yes, the Badger basketball team did it. They made it to the Final Four.
With the team landing in North Texas Wednesday to begin its quest for a national championship, Badger fans and students should soak in these next few days. The Badgers have only made the Final Four two times prior to this season, in 1941 and 2000. That’s a 59-year gap. More than 50 graduating classes never saw the Badgers advance to a Final Four, and now in 2014, we’re lucky enough to be a part of one.
The men’s basketball team can lay claim to 1941 as the lone national championship it has won, and that win is a source of pride. But even that came in a year when there were just eight teams in the tournament. Not to undermine the accomplishments of that team, but I doubt that many of us here on campus hold a close personal connection to that win. Even in 2000, when the Badgers pushed into the Final Four as an eight seed, the majority of us were only in grade school and probably paid little attention to college basketball.
Growing up in Wisconsin and cheering for the Badgers my entire life, I still don’t remember watching the 2000 tournament team and could barely tell you anything about the 1941 team other than their shorts were ridiculously short.
But now it’s 2014 and we can hold claim to this Badger team that has made it to the Final Four. For the rest of our lives, we’re going to be telling our kids, family and friends about the year the Badgers went to the Final Four as we cheered them on as part of the student body. We can tell them about Frank “The Tank” Kaminsky taking over the tournament, the record-breaking three-point shooting of Ben Brust or the silky smooth jumper from freshman Nigel Hayes. The list goes on, all the way down the Badger bench.
We’re also going to remember last Saturday night, running from wherever we were down to State Street and celebrating in the streets with fellow Badgers after the intense overtime period against Arizona finally came to a close with the Badgers on top, 64-63.
So soak this in Badgers: This trip to the Final Four is one we’ll always remember.
And realize that this is truly one of the best teams that we will ever see don the Cardinal and White. If you want to understand how a team should work together, just watch this Badger team and try to explain how this bunch isn’t one of the most unselfish groups of guys playing the game. Not a single one has aspirations to be a star. They simply want to win. That selflessness is something unique in today’s basketball world and makes them enjoyable to watch.
Fans of Badger basketball have been lucky. For the past 15 years, Wisconsin has made it to the illustrious NCAA Tournament, and it has been something to almost expect out of any Badgers team going forward. But out of those 15 teams, just one other team has made it this far in the tournament. There had been growing conversations that simply getting into the tournament wasn’t enough and that the Badgers needed to make a real run in the tournament one of these years.
And now they have.
But don’t forget the man who has led the Badgers to the Final Four this season. This will be the first year that Bo Ryan won’t be at the Final Four with his late father, Butch. You can tell the players want to win for their coach just as bad as the coach wants to win for his players. It’s the bond between Ryan and the players of the 2013-2014 team that has gotten them this far.
So always remember, Badger fans, that we’ve been fortunate enough to watch our team under the direction of one of the best coaches in Wisconsin history. And that is something we will always have with us when we remember our time at UW. Much like students in the 1990s and early 2000s can say about going to school when Barry Alvarez was head football coach, we can say that we were students when Ryan led the Badgers to his first Final Four in 2014.
No matter what the outcome may be on Saturday night or hopefully Monday night, simply enjoy the ride that has gotten the Badgers to this point and realize that we’re one of the luckiest classes in Wisconsin history. Remember watching the games with friends. Remember the final seconds when the clock struck zero and the Badgers beat Arizona. Remember the ensuing party on State Street and the feelings that ran through your body throughout the following days.
It may be easy to get caught up in all of the Final Four madness that has happened this past week and that will continue on to Saturday. But whether you’re in Madison or you’re loading up the car or bus with friends to head to North Texas, simply take a moment to realize how lucky we are as Badger fans. Because for just the third time in school history, the Badgers have made it to the Final Four, and we’re a part of it.
Not only are the Badgers a part of the Final Four and have the eyes of the nation on them, but remember what the Final Four means. It means that the Wisconsin Badgers are two wins away from winning a national championship.
And that right there is something that will result in an all-night party in the streets of Madison. A national championship would put the cherry on top of an already unforgettable and amazing season that we, as Badger fans and students, will remember for the rest of our lives.