Death, taxes, and tired cliches. All three of those things are as inevitable as Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers squad finishing in the top-4 of the B1G and making the NCAA Tournament. The run, which is the seventh longest of it's kind all time, started when Dick Bennett was the coach, continued with a brief Brad Soderberg interlude, and now marches on with Ryan at the helm. Badger fans should never take this for granted, however, because between 1947 and 1994, the Badgers made the Tournament a grand total of zero times. *looks knowingly at Northwestern*
The streak started in 1999 when the #5 seeded Badgers were upset by SW Missouri State by the score of 43-32. Neither the team they lost to, nor the score, seemed like real things that ever existed, but I looked at multiple places that reported the same thing...so, I guess this game was real. I must have blocked this from my memory, because I have no recollection of it, and I wish I still lived in that blissful time of 10 minutes ago. Wisconsin's leading scorer had 11 points. No one else had more than six. There should be a "30 for 30" about that game, screw the Big East. All was forgiven the next year, however, when the #8 seeded Badgers bullied their way to the Final Four and a date with fellow B1G mate, Michigan State. UW lost by 12, and that season is only the second time the Badgers have ever made the Final Four. Although, making the Final Four in 1941 doesn't really seem like much of an accomplishment since Wisconsin had to win one game to get there and the game was at home. But on the other, more homerish hand, F THAT! WISCONSIN WON THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP IN BASKETBALL IN 1941! The Badgers lost in the first round of the 2001 Tourney with interim coach Soderberg roaming the sidelines, in another game I've withdrawn from my memory bank.
Starting in 2002, Bo Ryan's first year on the job, Wisconsin has varied between an under-seeded 12 to an over-seeded 2 (WHY DID BRIAN BUTCH HAVE TO GET HURT?!?!?!) They've made it to the Elite 8 once, losing a heart-breaker to UNC in 2005; they Sweet 16 four times, most recently losing to Syracuse in 2012 by one point in the stupidest game ever; won one game five times; and lost their first game twice, most recently to Ole Miss last year. Being a Wisconsin basketball fan comes with a certain set of expectations. You expect to be good, but almost never good enough. That has been the gift/curse of UW hoops for the last 16 years. Teams like UNC and Kentucky vary wildly from year to year, winning the National Championship one year and then missing the Tournament all together the next. Wisconsin's deliberate style of play can frustrate better teams (especially teams that have never played them before) but it also never leant itself to comebacks. The Badgers, more often than not, exceeded expectations in the Tournament if you go by seeds, but never took advantage of opportunities to make a truly memorable run.
This year's team has higher expectations than most of its previous iterations, and it will be exciting to see how far they can go.