For the second straight season, Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers are in the Final Four and the stakes have never been higher. The Badgers head to Indianapolis to face the top-seeded Kentucky Wildcats for the second straight season in the Final Four. In fact, this will be the third opponent that Wisconsin will face for consecutive seasons in the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Wiconsin met Oregon in the Round of 32 and Arizona in the Elite Eight. Wisconsin faced the same opponents in the same portion of the bracket this season, beating both just like last year. Talk about déjà vu.
Despite the parallels that this season draws to their last, Wisconsin will undoubtedly have a solid chance of doing what they fell short of doing last year: winning a national championship. Seniors Frank Kaminsky and Josh Gasser know that their team has what it takes, it's just a matter of getting there. Wisconsin has the talent, but can they pull it off?
What the Final Four Means to Wisconsin
A Chance at Revenge
As much as the Badgers want to think about the season that lies in front of them, there's no doubt that they have the idea of revenge in the back of their minds heading into the Final Four. Kentucky took down the Badgers 74-73 in last year's Final Four. It was a heartbreaker for a Wisconsin Badger team that stuck with Calipari's underdogs througout the entire contest, but a huge three pointer late in the game by Aaron Harrison (which became a theme for him) led the Cats to the Championship game.
So if you're Wisconsin, what more could you ask for? A chance to duke it out on the biggest stage of them all with the biggest opponent of them all is the challenge the Badgers have been waiting for all season long. If you think they're shook, then think again. Countless press conference videos have circled the Internet recently of relaxed and loose Badgers talking about the match up and cracking jokes with the media. Bo Ryan's guys know what they need to do and know that they can stick with the big dogs (or cats) of Kentucky on Staurday.
If the Badgers can muster a victory over Kentucky in the Final Four, then they will certainly face a familiar team on the other side of the bracket. Duke came into Madison back in December for the B1G/ACC challenge where they defeated the Badgers 80-70. And by golly if we have a rematch of the Big Ten Chmapionship between the Badgers and the Spartans, then we all know what's at stake.
A Chance for the Seniors to Finish their Wisconsin Careers in Style
Everyone wants to win a National Championship and nobody likes to lose their last game, but the sad truth about the NCAA Tournament is that seniors on 67 teams walk away with a loss to end their collegiate careers. Frank Kaminsky, Josh Gasser, Duje Dukan, and Traevon Jackson don't want to be on one of those teams.
These seniors have stuck with this Wisconsin program to build it up to where it sits today. Gasser is in his fifth year at Wisconsin and all of his teammates express how lucky they are to have him as a leader and an experienced player. He and Kaminsky have shown how crucial college basketball can be to the development of a player. While Wisconsin's opponent the Kentucky Wildcats bask in one-and-dones, Wisconsin has some veteran players who have stuck with the program and turned themselves into great players and highly-regarded individuals. No one deserves a championship more than guys like Gasser and Kaminsky, both of which love their school and program, and they'll have one last go at it in Indianapolis this weekend.
Elevation for Wisconsin and the Big Ten's Reputation
Behind all of the talk about which conference was the "best" conference this season, in college basketball, the Big Ten was said to have taken a "step back." Wisconsin was expected to dominate, like they have, and conferences like the Big 12 and the ACC were expected to be more successful in the NCAA Tournament. But thanks to this Wisconsin Badgers program, and obviously the inspiring play of Michigan State in March, the Big Ten has proven that it possesses some of the best teams in the country that can compete with any other conference in terms of post-season success.
Wisconsin has proved itself as a top-tier program thanks most in part to head coach Bo Ryan. He brought this school out of a slump where it couldn't get past the Sweet Sixteen to a prosperous two seasons in which the Badgers have now reached the Final Four in consecutive seasons. Wisconsin is no longer just a good team from the Big Ten conference, but rather one of the best teams in the country. Bo Ryan has coached his players to play fundamentally sound and unselfish basketball night in and night out. Most importantly, Bo Ryan has proven that you don't need the best recruits in the nation to be successful. Kaminsky was a four-star recruit who averaged less than 5 points per game his first two seasons, but now he's a Wooden Award Finalist with a chance to win the NCAA Championship.
This Saturday we'll see two of the best teams square off in prime time for what should be an entertaining showdown. While both of these programs took considerably different routes to get here, it should be one of the most hyped and talked about games in quite some time for college basketball.