Back in January, Bucky took a trip to NYC.
It was, for the most part, a horror-show. A brick-laying, soul-slaying exercise in fan masochism portending a two-month-plus run of uneven and at times painful-to-watch basketball. But, in the end, it led to a great escape from New York.
Now, a week after knocking off No. 1 seed and defending champion Villanova, the Badgers return to the World’s Most Famous Arena for a Sweet 16 matchup with No. 4 seed Florida with a wide-open East Region in front of them.
How is this all going to play out? As I said in the post-Villanova win roundtable, your guess is as good as mine.
There is literally no outcome that would surprise me. Wisconsin shoot 35 percent from the floor and lose by 20? On the table. Bronson Koenig shooting 9-of-15 from three en route to a double-digit Badgers win? Sure, why not. A repeat of last year’s Sweet 16 meltdown where Wisconsin somehow allowed Notre Dame to score eight points in 19 seconds? As likely an outcome as any.
From the outlandish costs of tickets on the secondary market (minimum of $200 to get into the building as of Tuesday night) to the irrational exuberance displayed on social media, it’s clear that Badger Nation is embracing this run with abandon.
Wisconsin fan money coming in big. Ticket that was supposed to be a doozy without Duke & Nova is back to a fortune pic.twitter.com/E4AOSZUK7u— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 22, 2017
Normally, I am hesitant in these situations. I worry about the reams of national love the Badgers are getting (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). All things equal, I’d rather be miles off the radar—it’s always better to be the one nobody is writing about.
But after surviving the basketball equivalent of a single car crash into a sludge-filled drainage ditch—disgusting to experience in real time, aggravating as all get out, ultimately, one hopes, no long-term damage—the past two games have been a long, deep sigh of relief.
A side benefit of watching a team implode only to suddenly see it right the ship at the exact right time: erasure of expectations. When the season started, many expected Wisconsin to be where it is right now. That certainly wasn’t the case when the season ended (#ncaahatesWI)
And yet, here we are. I am glad the season culminates in a return to New York. It’s a beautiful, enormous stage. For those traveling to MSG for the first time, you’re in for a treat. It is a gorgeous place to watch a basketball game.
MSG is stunning. It's an opera house disguised as a hockey venue. pic.twitter.com/OQuupKyH2E— Jon (@jonbei013) January 28, 2017
It’s a return to the scene of the crime where the season started going sideways. All the better to continue the exorcism started last week. We’ve seen teams struggle in the past to deal with playing in big arenas in big cities—hopefully having a dry run back in January pays off. From all accounts, it’ll be a heavily pro-Wisconsin crowd. Just like a few months ago.
There’s a liberating, almost zen beauty in rooting for a team in Wisconsin’s position. After all of the unpleasantness that was January and February (and a smattering of March) Badgers basketball, a lovely little March Madness run clears the palate. We fans are playing with house money, y’all. Sit back, relax and enjoy it.