Where Do We Go From Here?

Here in Madison, I’ve noticed that people have been a little down the last couple of days. Co-workers aren’t as quick to exchange pleasantries. The drive-thru guy at the neighborhood Arby’s has been giving me fewer packets of Arby’s Sauce with my daily Big Montana. Even my son seems to have lost his zest for life, as he looks at me repeatedly with sad four-year-old eyes and says, “Daddy, why did Wisconsin lose?”

Yes, Badger Nation is taking the Wisconsin men’s basketball loss to Michigan State pretty hard. And frankly, we should be. Sure, some will say it doesn’t matter, that the Badgers are a lock to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament and to go deep in the 65-team playoff. Some will say that losing at the Breslin Center, where the Spartans have only lost one game this year, is no embarrassment. Some will say that the loss will toughen up the Badgers as they head into the NCAA postseason.

I say that’s a lot of crap. Not like I have to remind you, but for the first time in school history, the Badgers basketball team was ranked number one in the AP poll on Monday. Now, being ranked number one doesn’t mean you automatically get a championship trophy bestowed upon you, but it’s an enormous deal. Especially when there is controversy surrounding the ranking. Not only did many feel Ohio State deserved the top spot (which they received in the coaches’ poll), but many felt that Florida, UCLA, North Carolina, and even Pittsburgh were being slighted. What the Badgers had to do on Tuesday night was to defend their ranking, to show the Brent Musburgers of the world (who casually commented during the Michigan State/Wisconsin broadcast that he didn’t feel the Badgers were that good) that they deserved and had earned the right to be called Number One.

They blew it. The officials were favorable to the Badgers and put several of the Spartans’ best players in early foul trouble, but the Badgers still racked up their smallest point total of the season. The Spartans dominated in rebounding. The Spartans’ defense was stifling. Drew Neitzel completely outplayed Alando Tucker in every facet of the game. If Marcus Landry hadn’t stepped up and scored a season-high 18 points, the game — especially the second half — would have been much uglier than it was.

So the Badgers lock on number one lasted about 36 hours. All of the naysayers were proven correct. Assuming the Badgers will lose to Ohio State in Columbus on Sunday — and I think the Badgers will play better than they played against Michigan State, but guess what, Ohio State will play better than Michigan State — Wisconsin could fall in the polls as low as sixth or seventh.

The one good thing to come out of the Spartans victory on Tuesday night is the increased likelihood that the Big Ten will see at least four and maybe as many as six teams — Illinois and Purdue being bubble teams for now — in the tournament. That number is very good for not only increased interest around here in the tournament, but is very important for the prestige and economic and recruiting power of the conference. Not perhaps enough to make up for how the Badgers so abruptly gave up their hold on being the best basketball team in the country, but it’s something. Now if I can only convince the Arby’s guy that all is not lost. Have you ever tried to cover a Big Montana with only two packets of Arby’s sauce? It’s like trying to paint a school bus with a colored pencil.


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