Worgull: Right Team, Wrong Year

In his final column of 2007, senior columnist Benjamin Worgull looks at how special Wisconsin basketball was in 06-07 ... and how they picked the wrong year to emerge.

It's funny how time seemingly doesn't heal all things.

It's been almost three weeks since the Badger men's basketball team's season ended in a very unsatisfying fashion. Wisconsin had achieved such extraordinary highs in 2006-07 - setting a school record for overall and conference wins, a 17-game hitting streak and rising to the top spot in the AP poll for the first time ever. All that made a second-round dismissal from the national tournament seemed impossible and improbable.

But with the sharp shooting of Kyle Kruger and Wisconsin's Brian Butch still a week away from returning to the lineup, the once seemingly invincible Badgers drifted off quickly and quietly into the Chicago night and with it, the Badgers best chance in years to reach a Final Four. Instead, the season ended with Wisconsin winning no hardware, no tournament titles, not cutting down any nets and having its season labeled as a big let down.

Was everything really lost in Chicago that Sunday afternoon? Was the best season in Wisconsin basketball history really not that special after all after a second round exit? Were the Badgers just a team over-hyped by the media, which in turned created unrealistic expectations for Bo's Boys … expectations they had no hope of achieving?

Looking back, the 06-07 Wisconsin Badgers were the right team for the university, the student body and UW fans across the country. They just made their splash at the wrong time in the wrong year.

Wisconsin entered the conference tournament with a 27-4 record, far away its best mark entering the post season in school history. Additionally, the 13 conference wins surpassed its best conference win total in school history, as UW's 2002 and 2003 regular season titles only required 12. So naturally, when Wisconsin reached the 13-win plateau, the Badgers should have had a conference title to display. Not in 2007, as a 15-1 tear by the Buckeyes put the Badgers on the Big Ten's back burner.

The Buckeyes won two of the three brutal games against Wisconsin and both of the wins netted the Bucks a championship. Even so, fans still aren't sure who the better team really was last season. The Bucks did make it to the national championship game and won the season series against the Badgers. But in Columbus, without key ingredient Brian Butch in the line up for the majority of the game, the Buckeyes, thanks to a Mike Conley jumper, escaped by the narrowest of margins.

Badger fans will still knock the Buckeyes for reasons besides their bitterness. Ohio State played an easier conference schedule than the Badgers, beat only three ranked opponents – Georgetown, Tennessee and Wisconsin – all season and narrowly escaped defeat time and time again. Whether which team was better or not, Ohio State's core nucleus of freshman made the big plays when they needed and they were better than UW in 07.

Even if the Badgers and the Buckeyes exchanged seeds in the tournament, nobody was going to step between the Gators and their second title. The junior quartet of Brewer, Horford, Green and Noah gave the NBA the brush off to try and become the first team to win back-to-back in 15 years. As good as the Buckeyes were, they failed in their two attempts to beat the defending national champs. Could the Badgers have derailed the Gator express? No, probably not.

Even Alando Tucker's splash on college basketball came in the wrong year. Tucker broke nearly every offensive record in Wisconsin's books for a single season, including points scored (716), field goals made (256), free throw attempts (249), and games started (36). Oh yeah, Tucker's 2,217 points were the most in school history and ninth on the Big Ten's all-time scoring list.

Anytime a player makes that kind of an impact, the Naismith Trophy should find its way onto anyone's mantle piece. Not this year, as Texas freshman Kevin Durant couldn't be stopped by anyone - except the NBA - as he turned in 25.8 points per game and 20 double doubles in the Big XII to out perform Tucker in the voting category.

In reality, Wisconsin was never THE best team in the nation, as teams like the Bruins, Buckeyes, Gators, Hoyas, Jayhawks and Tar Heels all had cohesive units worthy of consideration. Other than the Gators, however, no team earned as much credibility as the Badgers. All of those achievements on the hardwood this past year, seniors Chappell, Taylor and Tucker, with some help from Bo, showed that Madison isn't just a football school anymore.

Even though the emergence came a year too early or a year too late and were a Brian Butch injury away from being 100 percent, the men's basketball team gave a Wisconsin community something better: a reason to cheer, get excited and realize that this might be the start of something special.

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