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March 24, 2011

Tom's Take: Enjoy it for what it is

Looking back on it now, the spring of 2000 still conjures up some of the more vivid memories any 13-year-old kid could imagine.

Frankly, there's nothing like coming home from school when the days stay lighter longer, where the snow is finally melting, and a cast of characters like Mark Vershaw, Mike Kelley, Duany Duany, Andy Kowske, Jon Bryant, Roy Boone and Maurice Linton led the Badgers to its first Final Four appearance this side of World War II.

It was the ultimate setup.

Come home, play basketball outside on the driveway, eat some dinner and settle in to watch the Badgers knock off another opponent on its way to Indianapolis and the RCA Dome.

Though I am now about to turn 25 (though sometimes I still think I'm 13), the spring of 2011 strikes up that very nostalgic feel.

Guys like Jordan Taylor, Jon Leuer, Tim Jarmusz, Keaton Nankivil, Josh Gasser and a floppy haired ginger named Mike Bruesewitz are finally giving Badger fans a realistic chance to relive those Final Four glory years.

All were under-recruited guys during their prep days. All want to do nothing more than come in and work hard for head coach Bo Ryan. All of them don't care about being called boring, which by the way is the biggest misnomer since conspiracy theorists believed Elvis was still alive.

The only thing these Badgers care about is whether or not what they do on the court is enough to keep their season - and for six of them, their careers - alive.

"No matter what people have ever said in the past winning in the post season is satisfying," senior Keaton Nankivil said. "If we would have been the best team in the world and we were winning in the post season it would still be satisfying. When people do have stuff to say it kind of makes it a little extra sweet to kind of keep pushing forward and dispel things like that.

"We do know the kind of talent and the way we play quality basketball around here does get results."

Since Bo Ryan took over as a head coach at the start of the 2001-02 season he has guided his team to 10-straight NCAA tournament appearances which is already five more than UW ever had prior to his arrival.

During that time, UW's average seed in the field of 64, 65 or 68 comes in at 5.9. The five prior UW entrants averaged a seven seed, with it's No. 5 showing in the 1999 NCAA tournament being its highest.

If people want to call Ryan's 'Swing' system boring, let them. Chances are their alma mater doesn't have the consistency both on the court and off for them to boast about. There is that old axiom that states people always want what they can't have. That fits here.

Now, I'm not nave enough to think getting to the NCAA tournament each and every year will please everyone, nor should it. But I'm also not nave enough to think getting to the NCAA tournament is a given.

To steal a line from a good friend, consistency does nothing but breed contempt.

Though Ryan has always proved to have his teams firmly among the top 20 percent of basketball programs in this country, people are always going to want more. That's fine.

Opinions are the very product that makes sports so much fun to be involved with whether it comes as a fan or in my case, a reporter. Everybody always thinks they're right. Everybody always thinks someone else is wrong. And everybody together eventually bonds with one another enough to carry on reasonable, albeit sometimes heated, debates.

Outsiders will call the Badgers boring because they see scores like 36-33 or something in the mid 50's on consistent occasions and loyal followers will argue that there are recruiting downfalls that prevent the Badgers from breaking through the proverbial tournament wall.

In the end, though, the only thing that matters is what happens between the lines for a given 40 minutes. That, more than anything, should help people get excited for the rest of this season. Just enjoy each one as they occur.

These Badgers have proven they can beat anybody in the country during a given 40 minutes (nobody would have touched the Badgers the day they played Michigan State inside the Kohl Center). They have also proven they can fall to any team at any time (the 33-point depression against Penn State).

All that matters now is the fact that UW is one of four teams remaining in its region with a chance of breaking through a barrier that has been so elusive during Ryan's tenure. With two more solid performances, two more 40-minute collections of great basketball, Wisconsin will be among the nation's elite playing for a national championship on the Final Four stage.

"Someone asked Jordan what it was like playing in a boring style offense," freshman Josh Gasser said. "I don't agree with that. Obviously people probably think we're a defensive minded team -which we are - and a toughness minded team that isn't going to put up a lot of points. But we've shown that we can this year and that we can beat any team in the country.

"I think teams are starting to realize we're a good offensive team as well."

Tonight when Wisconsin plays another possession-valuing team in Butler, I don't want to hear anything about the game being boring, especially if the final score comes up short of whatever Florida and BYU precede it with.

Having so much at stake, there is no way any reasonable fan could think the game is boring even if it's one of those where you're confident you could step in cold off the bench and contribute. Just value it for what it is. Two teams will undoubtedly be playing as hard as they can for a trip to the Elite Eight and a shot at the Final Four.

Like that defacto Big Ten Championship game in Columbus a few years back - the one where Ohio State beat Wisconsin 49-48 - even a low scoring game some would consider boring can bring out the highest tensions in those that either care about one of the teams or have an appreciation for 'old-time' basketball.

Hopefully one of those appreciating it will be that same 13-year-old kid that is growing accustomed to 'quality basketball' while enjoying this tournament run in it's purest way.

As a believer.



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