Thursday, January 04, 2007
The win at Georgia was a big one. It would have been an ideal game for Wisconsin to choke on; a tough road match-up against a decent team (that they should beat). As the #4 ranked team in the country, there aren't many teams that the Badgers shouldn't beat. Anywhere.
As Bo Ryan's team took to the court on Sunday, their fresh #4 ranking still drying on Jay Bilas' prompter and New Years Eve in "Hotlanta" providing an even bigger distraction than the "Girls Gone Wild Invitational" in South Padre TX, they provided a perfect opportunity for the Bulldogs to rebound from back to back road losses vs. Georgia Tech and Clemson. Georgia had however, outscored Gonzaga a few weeks earlier in Athens, and Wisconsin, a team whose only convincing road win was a home game against Marquette, would've been a quality win for a tournament resume.
They didn't. The Badgers hit key free throws and played solid defense to hold on and put themselves in a position to begin conference play with a near perfect record.
I'd like to believe that this years Badgers will handle such a high ranking differently than their predecessors. Not that they've ever been ranked #4, but it is a long standing Wisconsin sports tradition to handle any and all pollster praise with a sloppy and unnecessary loss. Basketball, football... even hockey (except when they win national championships).
This Georgia win, although not too impressive, was huge. I was certain they would lose. I was pleasantly surprised when they won. If it hadn't been for Nick Collins' "freaknik" in the south end zone at Soldier field Sunday night (and the 3 bottles of champagne I drank early Monday morning), I might have actually remembered it before Wednesday.
Aside from having his team playing at a high level early in the year, it seems as though Bo Ryan has found a way to focus this team. Maybe all he has to do is remind them of last year’s disappointment and squandered opportunity. Or, maybe he's pointing out the fact that we are playing for a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and have been since October. Hopefully both. The Big Ten sucks this year and we have a real shot at a #1 seed. The Badgers don't need to choke. The #4 ranking shouldn't really mean that much to them (outside of national coverage). The real focus should be making it to March with no more than 3 losses.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but its what they need to do. The "tournament selection committee" won’t be handing any 4 loss Wisconsin team a #1 seed. Not when the Pac Ten has already received 2 of them in early January (AZ and UCLA). We should lose to Ohio State on the road and maybe someone else. If we have more than 3 losses, one of them better be in the conference tournament, and even then the committee will probably screw us.