So it's Badgers versus Syracuse...

Published 2012-03-22

NOTE: I began writing this in 2011 following Wisconsin's loss to Butler in the Sweet Sixteen. As tipoff against Syracuse is upon us, it's worth posting now... Since a six point loss to North Carolina in 2005, I've been waiting for this moment -- UW being undermatched against a perennial national power. Let's see what happens...

For the past 14 seasons, the Wisconsin Badgers mens basketball team has earned itself a berth in the NCAA Tournament, a feat that places the program in elite company.

In fact, among active streaks, only Kansas (23)*, Duke (17), Michigan State (15) have more consecutive appearances than the Badgers, who are tied with Gonzaga and Texas.

But being a selfish fan -- is there another kind? -- why do I like the idea of UW losing to the Kentuckys, the Dukes, the North Carolinas or even the Ohio States of the world in the NCAA Tournament as opposed to what the last six five tournament appearances have brought:

Because I see more hope in a 59-55 loss to Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2004 tournament than a 20 point loss to Cornell in the second round. Or a six point loss to Kentucky in the 2003 Sweet Sixteen than a 17 point loss to Davidson in the 2008 Sweet Sixteen.

Once upon a time, the Badgers were more like Butler, Xavier and UNLV and able to offer up a competitive game against the elite programs, and on occasion win those matchups. They weren't necessarily a respected power-conference player, able to contend for a Big Ten title year-in and year-out, yet unable to build toward consistent tournament runs.

All things being equal, I'm not about to complain about a program that has won as many Big Ten regular season & conference tournament titles in the past 10 years -- five combined -- than it did between 1924 and 2002. And no way am I going to complain about 14 straight trips to the tournament.

But being a selfish fan, I'd rather look forward to trying to beat the elite than think things are in the bag against "mid-majors" come tournament time.

* -- Kansas missed the tournament in 1989 due to NCAA probation, but have not missed the tournament in a normal season since 1983.

Wisconsin Badgers NCAA Tournament losses dating back to 1999