Fair or unfair, many tend to view a team's entire season by what happens in March. Certainly, there are those who will look at Wisconsin's 12-straight appearances and say "Yeah, but they have never won it all" (actually they did in 1941). Or they might say "Yeah, but it has been 10 years since the last Final Four run." That is true. Welcome to world of win-or-go-home-basketball.
Last Friday's game in Indianapolis aside, the Badgers have been playing some very good ball of late. Even in the Big Ten Tournament, despite shooting less than 30 percent from the field, they only lost by four. Are you kidding me? Shooting like that should result in at least a 15-point defeat. They stayed in the game in part because they were guilty of just five turnovers, while forcing 17. Yet the fragile nature of single-elimination basketball became quite clear. The team with the Big Ten's best free throw shooting percentage went just 8-of-14 at the line. Something as simple as that can prove costly to any team in the tournament.
Can Wisconsin make a deep run? Of course it can. It has good veteran guards, a big man in Jon Leuer who appears close to his pre-injury performance level, and a coach who knows a thing or two about post season competition. But understand this is anything but an easy bracket. The Badgers will play a Wofford team that heads to Jacksonville with a 13-game winning streak, and much like Wisconsin, is a team that will bring a very solid defense to the Sunshine State.
If the Badgers advance, they can count on playing another team that will defend very well. Many basketball observers believe Temple deserved a higher seed. There are those who say the same thing about Cornell. My guess is the Friday games in Jacksonville will be true grinders.
On another note, during the tournament fans will hear the stories of several players and probably some lesser known programs (such as Wofford). Don't be surprised if CBS has some fun with Ohio State's Mark Titus, who already has had plenty of attention for his popular blog Club Trillion which, by the way, is really entertaining. There will be other pieces focusing on players who came from rough backgrounds, or perhaps worked their way back from illness or injury. They all serve as examples of how much a student-athlete can have on his plate besides playing basketball.
Along those lines, I hope you get a chance to check out a feature on this week's Badger Sports Report with Bo Ryan. Our producer Jay Williams caught up with Tim Jarmusz, the hard-nosed junior who Bo Ryan will tell you does a number of things that might not show up in a box score, but are things that the head coach appreciates. Part of the feature focuses on Tim's admiration for his brother Adam, a West Point graduate who is now a platoon leader in Afghanistan. "I think about it every day," says Tim. "It's a different world ... from what I've heard, it's not pretty." (view video)
Basketball is very important to Tim and his family. He and his team would like to keep playing for a few more weeks. March Madness is very important to fans across the country. Yet I'm sure someone will throw something at his TV screen because somebody missed a key shot, or gave up a game-winning bucket to screw up a bracket. Remember, we are talking about very young men in a single-elimination tournament. And in many cases, we are talking about young men who have far more serious matters in their world.
Enjoy the tournament. Let it be a fun escape to the truly serious issues in your world.