1. Sports are important. I don't need to tell you this, but I do feel I have to state it on record that Wisconsin's loss to Duke mattered to me. I believe sports to be important to people for different reasons.
2. I believe I have a karmic connection with sports. In 1996, two days after defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov broke free for an early goal in the opening seconds of some game against someone on the Detroit Red Wings' way to a Stanley Cup (I tried but couldn't pinpoint the game or the circumstance, but even if this never happened I still feel it to be true), I scored the only goal of my soccer career -- a breakaway from the opening kickoff by a runty 8-year-old with no skills other than a toe-bash with the accuracy of a musket.
3. If Konstantinov hadn't scored, I never would have, and knowing that to be true I committed my fate to sports. The late 90s were great -- growing up in Michigan meant titles by Michigan football, and the Red Wings and Michigan hockey twice. The late 2000s were a little iffier. Michigan football fell to shambles but by then I was at Wisconsin and had adopted the Badgers. Life was pretty good and disappointing all at once, and that seemed true for everyone else so the karmic connection held.
4. I reserve this space for you to figure out what Monday's loss means about life. My life. Your life. Whatever.
More on the Game
Final thoughts on Monday's loss, the season
Our writers have at least one more roundtable in them, discussing Monday's loss and what they'll remember about this team.
5. Everybody has been calling Frank Kaminsky by the nickname "Frank the Tank" throughout the NCAA tournament. This is not a sanctioned nickname. Frank has been going by some version of "Fupps" since high school (currently "Big Daddy Fupps" on his Twitter page). "Fupps" is short for "FUPA-Face." FUPA is a reference to something NSFW and gross that you're welcome to look up on your own time.
6. FUPA-Face was fabulous Monday night, and is the best player in Wisconsin basketball history.
7. The most brutal thing about Monday night is that so many players struggled who won't return (or likely won't). Sam Dekker went 0-for-6 from long-range. Traevon Jackson overextended himself, taking seven shots in 13 minutes and making one. Even Duje Dukan, who fulfilled his primary responsibilities by hitting open looks, committed one of the most egregious fouls of the game when he swung his arm around on the low block to knock over Tyus Jones, who was eager to fall on his ass. Jones converted the turnover into two points, tying the game with 7:22 remaining -- the first tie since the start of the second half.
8. But Josh Gasser's being swallowed up hurt the most. Gasser was the purest thing about the Badgers. Throughout the tournament, he managed to show up at every moment Wisconsin needed him with a board or a drive or a three-pointer -- some precision detonation to take the struts from under the opposition. He attempted one shot Monday night, a layup dutifully swatted away by Amile Jefferson, one of his three blocks on the night. Gasser was doused.
9. As I walked out of the bar, he was on the television answering questions at the post-game press conference. The bar had already put music back on the speaker system. Gasser's eyes were watery and red and I wondered when he would be remembered again.
10. If Gasser felt like a failure in that moment, I wouldn't blame him, but he would be wrong. He was part of the best team Wisconsin has ever had, and he made so many people so happy just by being himself.
11. In fact, there is no team I have ever known that was as much itself as Wisconsin -- from Frank's NSFW nickname and Go-Pro chest camera to Nigel Hayes pushing the limits of what one can say on a hot mic -- and Bo Ryan is perhaps the only coach in college basketball who would let his players get away with it. I've come to understand that Ryan has no use for social moors. The theme of every one of his interviews is that he doesn't give a shit what you think, with some variation in tone and spirit.
12. But that, too, may have something to do with that fact that he got peppered with an untold number of questions about what the championship game run meant for his legacy and the perception of Wisconsin basketball, the implication being that Wisconsin is second-tier, or a gimmick, or not meant to compete against teams in blue. The questions are the result of never becoming a transcendent NCAA tournament team until the 2013-14 season, but the questions are based on small, inconsistent samples and one hard-fast truth that Wisconsin doesn't usually get the guys atop recruiting rankings.
13. Sportswriters shouldn't be blamed. They're writing stories. They even call them "stories." There must be rising action, climax and denouement. There must be a moral, something that speaks to the human condition -- a real good kicker that makes everyone think and, ideally, love the writer. That's how your mind works when you deal in words.
14. Coaches deal more often in strategy, probability and numbers. Their jobs are primarily to win, which means to minimize risk and maximize efficiency -- to keep the other guys from scoring while filling the bucket as often as possible. In a one-and-done tournament, coaches and players do this until some other team does it better. Eventually the run ends, and it can be less like a story and more like deducing the final decimal in long division. Only one team can be left. This is an absolute.
15. I'm trying to make myself believe that. I'm not much good at it. I want consequence. I don't like writing with no end in sight. I don't like undertaking anything without knowing the answer. I don't like the idea that events can only be themselves -- specifically, that this team didn't deserve better, and that it didn't have history ripped from it, and the greatest Wisconsin team ever is a loser.
16. Sports are a load of shit, and yet I'm so thankful for them. I don't know where I would be without them. Probably in a cult, because self-actualization clearly isn't for me.
17. Spotlight athletes filter all the crap we pile on them. They have to be everything. They must understand their assignments as the pawns in a gameplan, and they need to be the feeling and vulnerable beings that can pull up on the wing and just know they're going to sink one of the most memorable shots in their team's history. They are bleary-eyed, red-faced and brave. They choke back the tears, but not quite well enough. They are all much stronger people than I, and I am so grateful that they exist to set the example.