This has been a rough week around the ol’ SB Nation blogosphere. Many, many talented people were furloughed for three months on Friday and it sucks. I only tell you all of this to let you know that people losing their jobs that they love and are excellent at, probably feels 10 times worse than I felt driving up I-65 from Indianapolis to Chicago after the Wisconsin Badgers lost to the Duke Blue Devils in the 2015 national championship game.
The 2014-15 Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball season was a dream.
There is no other way to describe it. For years Badgers basketball had been derided as slow and ugly and defensive and then things changed for the 2014-15 season. Badgers basketball was slow and beautiful and efficient, the most efficient offense in KenPom history in fact. National announcers couldn’t figure it out and continued to perpetuate the Dick Bennett era stereotype of Wisconsin basketball and then the Badgers won the Battle 4 Atlantis, beat Marquette and went 16-2 in the B1G.
Now seems like a reasonable time in the post to inform you that my sister went to Duke and my mother, who went to Wellesley College and didn’t have major college sports teams to cheer for, chose Duke as the team she would support much later in her life. My father, a handsome man with excellent judgement, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin...just so everyone’s rooting interests are on the table.
Coming off the 2013-14 season where Aaron Harrison, or maybe it was Andrew Harrison or Chris Harrison from The Bachelor, drilled a three over Josh Gasser’s outstretched hand it was difficult to know what to expect. The Badgers only lost Ben Brust off of a, well, very good team, but Wisconsin basketball isn’t a team that you see in the Final Four one year, let alone two years in a row.
Well, the Badgers made it back to the Final Four for the second year in a row and it was fucking awesome. They beat Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State (in overtime, while holding Sparty to zero points in the extra frame, in a game I attended) in the B1G Tournament and then opened up the NCAA Tournament by beating Coastal Carolina and Oregon.
They then beat UNC, Arizona and a 38-0 Kentucky team to reach the finals.
That...is a really impressive run in an NCAA Tournament and I think that because the Badgers didn’t ultimately win the title it is forgotten. All three of those teams were in KenPom’s top-ten, with Arizona and Kentucky being in the top-four.
I, despite having grown up in the Philadelphia suburbs, have been watching Wisconsin basketball for a long time and no team the Badgers fielded made me more excited than this one.
My wife and I decided to have people over for the Kentucky/Wisconsin game. Why the hell not, right? Who cares if UK is undefeated, this is Wisconsin’s year! Our chalkboard wall proved to be the catalyst to win, I think.
I don’t know who took this picture, but what I do know is that the guy kneeling next to me tackled me into my standing fan, which was broken the next day, after Sam Dekker hit that step back three. We couldn’t believe that our Badgers were going to play for a national title on Monday.
My wife and I woke up on Sunday, hungover, and said “wouldn’t it be crazy if we went to the title game?” We then cobbled together a traveling party, our friends Roz and Jenna joined us, a hotel, which we didn’t have to pay for because my mom had points, and tickets...which we got for a reasonable price from Kentucky fans. We were ready to win a God damned national title.
I don’t need to tell you how the game turned out or whether or not Justise Winslow touched it. (He did.) No one can dispute that, except the refs that night, but that’s not even the most sad part of the game.
This isn’t even the first time I’ve talked about this on this dumb website. The saddest part is that I thought the Badgers were going to win. I was convinced. I turned to my wife and told her as such with 13:17 left in the game after Frank Kaminsky scored to make it 48-39 and Duke called timeout. “We are going to win the national championship,” I said.
Wisconsin had an 85% win probability at that point in the game but a couple of scoreless droughts, including a 10-0 Duke run with under five minutes to go, sealed Wisconsin’s fate. The predominantly red-clad crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium wasn’t even mad. Everyone was just shell shocked into silence.
My travelling party filed out into the parking lot, found our car and got on the road back to Chicago. About 40 minutes northwest of Indianapolis we stopped to get gas and snacks. I walked into the gas station and there was a long line of sullen Badgers fans doing the same thing. No one said anything and we all had the same thousand yard stare.
I was happy to find out that my sister and mother decided to gloat privately since I didn’t receive a text from them that night, or the next day. Now, five years later, we can joke about the game but I don’t know how funny my wife, father and I really find them.
The 2014-2015 Wisconsin Badgers men’s basketball was my favorite team to follow (probably tied with the 2008 Phillies) because not only were they excellent at basketball, they were funny and charismatic and genuinely seemed to like each other. If asked, I’d imagine they are the favorite team of many Wisconsin fans too.
One day the Badgers will win a national title and the demos from this game will be exorcised. I hope Frank and Sam and Nigel and Josh and Bronson and Duje and Traevon are all there for it too. They, more than anyone, deserve it.
They aren’t just the best Wisconsin basketball team to never win a national championship. They are the best Wisconsin basketball team.