Well, the unthinkable has finally happened–Wisconsin is #1 in the AP basketball poll. I actually didn’t learn about this occurrence until late last afternoon, when an old college roommate of mine called to give me the news. As I drove home from the airport after an extended basketball-related vacation weekend, I got the one piece of information that could truly complete a nearly perfect weekend of hoops. My team is #1.
During my brief conversation with my old chum, we reflected on the days we spent watching teams that couldn’t compare to the current Badger squad toil away. In truth, our discussion of how far the program has come was fairly laughable, given the history of Wisconsin basketball. During my four years in college, the team went to the NCAA tournament three times. This is exactly three more tournaments than the majority of Wisconsin students over the years got to experience during their time in school. So as sweet as this ranking seems to me, I can only imagine what this feels like to fans who, unlike me, were around during the truly lean years.
That’s not to say that I ever expected a #1 ranking to be possible at Wisconsin. One of my favorite moments (I’ve probably discussed this one roughly 800 times before) from the unlikely Wisconsin Final Four run of 2000 was calling my parents after the Badgers beat Purdue to secure their spot in the national semifinals. A senior in college, I decided to call my parents to try and secure a grant to fund a trip to Indianapolis, where my team had somehow landed in the greatest event in all of sports. I had no plan of how to get tickets, or how to get down to the game, and I had more adrenaline running through my veins than ever before. I probably was not particularly articulate. However, I’ll never forget my father’s response when I asked if I could go to the Final Four. He simply said "You have to go–they’re never going to do this again." And if you remember the 2000 team, which barely squeaked into the tourney before going on their spectacular run, this seemed like a valid assessment of Wisconsin’s program. Time will tell if Wisconsin will ever be back in the Final Four, but the fact that Wisconsin now has a team that’s ranked top in the country is something that even I didn't see coming.
All that said, this is undoubtedly the toughest week that Wisconsin has had all year. Obviously, the Ohio State game next Sunday, pitting the two top-ranked teams in the country against one another will be highly anticipated. But I’m almost as excited to watch Wisconsin head to Michigan State tonight. The emotion that I suspect both teams will show should be at an extremely high level. Can you imagine how excited the Wisconsin guys will be to take the floor for the first time as #1. And perhaps more importantly, can you imagine how much Tom Izzo would love to knock Wisconsin off of its #1 pedestal after the pain that the Badgers have cause his Spartans in recent years? Should be a classic, and it’s not even the biggest game of the week. It truly is a good time to be a fan in Wisconsin.
Back soon with thoughts on my weekend basketball odyssey down south, where I had the chance to catch half of the ACC in action. Normally I’d be talking about how much better the ACC is than anything that I can see around here, but I guess I’m going to have to shut up with the Badgers in first. Never have I been so happy to keep my mouth shut.