Returning to Indianapolis for the national championship game felt a little bit like when you win a bunch of money at the casino, cash out, and return to the tables. That never, ever ends well. Nevertheless, when my friend Joel asked if I wanted a ride to and from the game, I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to see Wisconsin compete for their best shot at a title thus far in my lifetime. As the great philosopher Katy Perry once said: No regrets, just love.
Some quick thoughts on the game:
1) Bo Ryan and some of the Wisconsin players griped about the refs after the game. Yeah, the foul discrepancy in the second half was brutal, and there were a couple of out of bounds calls that hurt the Badgers. However, any complaints about the officials obscure the fact that Wisconsin just ran out of gas down the stretch. There came a point in the final few minutes where it was evident that Duke had stronger legs, and was going to win barring a miracle.
2) Begrudgingly, because I despise them, all the credit in the world to Duke. The Hateable Grayson Allen, as he will henceforth be known, dug them out of a hole when they were down nine and teetering on the brink of getting TKO’ed. Tyus Jones was making deep contested jumpers off the dribble that were Stephen Curry-esque. What can you even do about that?
3) After three great games, Sam Dekker’s shots stopped falling. He went 6-15 in the game; most, if not all, of his makes were within two feet of the basket and he went 0-6 from 3-point range. The Badgers desperately needed somebody to complement Frank Kaminsky’s scoring in the last 10 minutes of the game, but nobody stepped up.
4) Though this game isn’t hurting as much as I might’ve expected, it does sting that we have no idea when the Badgers will ever be this good again. It required a special formula of players that isn’t especially replicable. Bo Ryan is 67. While he’s showed no signs of slowing down, he also can’t do this forever. Will the program sustain success with his successor? Either way, winning last night sure would have been nice.
5) A lot has already been made of Bo’s rent-a-player dig (presumably) at Duke and Kentucky (though apparently he was talking about fifth-year transfers and not one-and-dones). It’s going to be one of those fun* Internet debates where he’s either painted as out of touch or the last bastion of pure basketball. While I have no problem with programs that are able to take freshmen, win with them, and ready-make them for the NBA, I’ll be an unabashed homer and defend Bo really quickly here.
A few years ago, I did a piece for my personal blog charting what a bunch of former Badgers were doing with their lives. A shocking number were still playing basketball professionally overseas, while much of the rest had an impressive array of business careers. Everyone with whom I spoke was effusive in their praise for how he helped them along in their lives. Part of that was diplomacy, I’m sure, but I do believe that he takes an interest in his players’ development beyond the extent that they can help him win games.
6) A lot of fans reflexively go into anger mode after games like last night’s. It’s much better, though, to step back and look back at it with more perspective. This was a great season. The Badgers had historically brilliant offensive efficiency, won the Big Ten regular season and tournament, made the Final Four with a lights-out second half against Arizona, and put undefeated Kentucky on full tilt. When the sadness dissipates, there’s a lot to be happy about here. I’m proud of the way this team has represented my alma mater, and will miss them dearly.
* Not fun.